Breakfast with Buddha (Merullo)

Breakfast with Buddha 
Roland Merullo, 2007
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
356 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781565126169

When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto Ringling, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he'd planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger—and amuse himself—he decides to show the monk some "American fun" along the way.

From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs game at Wrigley field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world—and more important, his life—through someone else's eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.

In Roland Merullo's masterful hands, Otto tells his story with all the wonder, bemusement, and wry humor of a man who unwittingly finds what he's missing in the most unexpected place. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Born—September 19, 1953
Raised—Revere, Massachusetts, USA
Education—B.A., M.A., Brown University
Awards—Massachusetts Book Award for Nonfction; Maria
   Thomas Fiction Prize; Alex Award
Currently—lives in western Massachusetts

Roland Merullo is an American author who writes novels, essays and memoir. His best-known works are the novels Lunch with Buddha (2012), Breakfast with Buddha (2007), In Revere, In Those Days (2002), A Little Love Story (2005), Golfing with God (2005), Revere Beach Boulevard (1998) and the memoir Revere Beach Elegy (2002). His books have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, German and Croatian

Early years
Merullo was born in Boston and raised in Revere, Massachusetts. His father, Roland (Orlando) was a civil engineer who worked for state government and was named personnel secretary by Christian Herter, governor of Massachusetts. In his 50s, Orlando attended Suffolk Law School, passed the Bar at 60, and became an attorney. Roland's mother Eileen was a physical therapist who worked at Walter Reed Army Hospital with amputees injured in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. Later, she became a science teacher and taught at the middle school level for 25 years. He has two brothers, Steve and Ken.

Merullo earned his high school degree from Phillips Exeter Academy. After receiving a B.A. and M.A. (in Russian Language and Literature) from Brown University, Merullo spent time in Micronesia during a stint with the Peace Corps. He worked in the former Soviet Union for the United States Information Agency and was employed as a cab driver and carpenter. He taught creative writing at Bennington College and Amherst College, and was a writer in residence at Miami Dade Colleges and North Shore Community College.

In 1979 Merullo married Amanda Stearns, a photographer he met in college. The couple lives in western Massachusetts and has two daughters.

His first published essays appeared in the early 1980s. They include a piece on solitude featured in The Rosicrucian Digest and a humorous "My Turn" column for Newsweek.

Leaving Losapas, Merullo's first novel, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1991 and named a B. Dalton Discovery Series Choice. Publishers Weekly called his second book, A Russian Requiem (1993), "smoothly written and multifaceted, solidly depicting the isolation and poverty of a city far removed from Moscow and insightfully exploring the psyches of individuals caught in the conflicts between their ideals and their careers."

The works Revere Beach Boulevard, In Revere in Those Days, and Revere Beach Elegy are often referred to as the Revere Beach trilogy. Of In Revere, in Those Days David Shribman of the Boston Globe wrote,

The details are just right, and the result is a portrait of a time and a place and a state of mind that has few equals.This is a story that is true to life because it is about life itself, the tragedies and trials and travails, and even the triumphs, momentary and meaningless as they sometimes seem. This is a Boston story for the ages.

PBS correspondent Ray Suarez said,

I've never met Roland Merullo, or even read anything he's written before now. Yet today I feel as if I've known him my whole life.... At the close of Elegy, the reader is comfortably walking alongside a man who has grown into himself, accepted and embraced his past.

A Little Love Story, published in 2005, centers on a woman with Cystic Fibrosis. According to Bloomsbury Review (2005), the novel...

tinkers with traditional formula; the lovers are neither innocent nor naive, nor completely helpless in the face of their impossible barrier to produce a love story for the 21st century.... [The story] circumscribes a dramatic arc that takes in 9/11, media saturation, lecherous men in politics, ethnic family stereotypes, adult-onset dementia, and terminal illness in the relatively young. This is an utterly charming, beautifully told, completely affecting story that is one part love story, one part medical thriller.

Merullo’s early works have been termed thoughtful and reflective. "I think I am a person who cares about the emotional life of people...and so I spend a lot of time on the emotional experiences of my characters," he has said.

But Golfing with God, Breakfast with Buddha, American Savior and, most recently, Lunch with Buddha exhibit a more overtly spiritual theme—albeit humorous in tone. The seeds of this thematic shift can perhaps be traced to A Little Love Story. However, in the fall of 2008, Merullo surprised many with the release of Fidel’s Last Days, his first thriller. At the time, Merullo said,

I've had editors counsel me to write the same book over and over, and some readers who complained that I haven’t kept writing books set in greater Boston. But it would be like trying to keep a migratory bird in your backyard. I just want to go places, to see things, to observe the human predicament in different forms.... Like most novelists, I have a peculiar fascination with the way people behave and the psychological roots of, or reasons for, their behavior.

Merullo has won the Massachusetts Book Award for non fiction and the Maria Thomas Fiction Prize. He has been a Booklist Editor's Choice recipient and was among the finalists for a PEN New England / Winship Prize. In 2009, Breakfast with Buddha was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and American Savior was chosen as an Honor Book in Fiction at the Massachusetts Book Awards. Revere Beach Boulevard was recently named one of New England's top 100 essential books by the Boston Globe. The Talk-Funny Girl was a 2012 Alex Award Winner. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews 
Please don't be put off when I describe this pleasant, engaging novel as a sermon. I admit I was put off during the first 50 pages or so, when I realized what I was in for, but I got to liking Breakfast with Buddha more and more as I went along and was very sorry when it ended.
Carolyn See - Washington Post

A laugh-out loud novel that’s both comical and wise…balancing irreverence with insight.
Louisville Courier-Journal

Insightful, amusing, loving…There are lovely moments of enlightenment that are not accompanied by angels with flaming swords; rather, there is that peaceful blue sphere that is available to all of us.
Seattle Times

Merullo, author of the Revere Beach series and Golfing with God, delivers a comic but winningly spiritual road-trip novel. Otto Ringling is a food-book editor and a happily married father of two living in a tony New York suburb. After Otto's North Dakota parents are killed in a car crash, he plans to drive his ebulliently New Age sister, Cecilia, back home to sell the family farm. But when Otto arrives to pick up Cecilia in Paterson, N.J. (where she does tarot readings and past-life regressions), she declares her intention to give her half of the farm to her guru, Volvo Rinpoche, who will set up a retreat there. Cecilia asks Otto to take Rinpoche to North Dakota instead; after a fit of skeptical rage in which he rails internally against his sister's gullibility, he accepts, and the novel is off and running. Merullo takes the reader through the small towns and byways of Midwestern America, which look unexpectedly alluring through Rinpoche's eyes. Well-fed Western secularist Otto is only half-aware that his life might need fixing, and his slow discovery of Rinpoche's nature, and his own, make for a satisfying read. A set piece of Otto's chaotic first meditation session is notably hilarious, and the whole book is breezy and affecting.
Publishers Weekly

With Breakfast with Buddha, Roland Merullo takes on one of the oldest and most popular literary genres—the road novel.... Despite the presence of a few mechanical scenes and characters, reviewers appreciated Merullo’s engaging writing style and his light and joyous treatment of what could have been very heavy-handed spiritual material.
Bookmarks Magazine

Veteran novelist Merullo continues the spiritual odyssey he began in Golfing with God (2005).... [and] using the lightest of touches, slowly turns this low-key comedy into a moving story of spiritual awakening.—Joanne Wilkinson

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers discussion pointers to get you started with Breakfast with Buddha:

1. The big question, of course, is what does Otto Ringling come to learn—what are the spiritual insights he gains—and when does he begin to learn things? What's the turning point? How is his life changed by this spiritual journey?

2. Talk about the book's humor.

3. Pick out several passages which you found profound...which made you sit up and take notice...and discuss them. 

4. Do you see yourself in Otto?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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