Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Lunch with Buddha accompanies the characters from Breakfast with Buddha, expanding on Otto Ringling’s spiritual journey as a sequel, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel in its own right. The story begins with Otto taking a plane out West with his two now grown up children to release his recently deceased wife’s ashes at a special camping place. Like Breakfast with Buddha, Otto’s sister, Cecelia, has organized a road trip for Otto and Volya Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk to whom Cecelia is married and with whom she has a young daughter. After this trip, Otto’s children will be leaving for college, and he will be returning to work in New York.

There are numerous similarities between this novel and its prequel, namely that narrator Otto has recently experienced bereavement (his parents in Breakfast with Buddha) and must embark on a road trip with his brother-in-law. However, the new layers concerning Rinpoche’s daughter, Otto’s forthcoming life changes, and his developing interest in Buddhism bring additional spiritual elements to the story. Extremely similar in plot but quite different in tone, Lunch with Buddha is still definitely worth the read, even if some of the action may seem derivative of its predecessor.

Though I personally, as a fan of Breakfast with Buddha, was ecstatic to hear it would be having a sequel, I do not think I would be as excited to have “Dinner with Buddha” if it was announced: a final installment may be fulfilling in its completion of Otto Ringling’s spiritual journey, but it may be difficult for Merullo to write something new and engaging for the reader.

That being said, Lunch with Buddha is an expertly written book. Ambitious in his exploration of Buddhism’s influence in bereavement, Merullo has successfully captured the emotional and spiritual effects of the loss of one’s spouse. Otto’s journey encapsulates the guilt one feels when facing the prospect of moving on and the spiritual ache for answers about life after death. Humorous in some parts while ominous in others, Lunch with Buddha confronts the reality of heartbreak with both delicacy and eccentricity. Highly recommended.