The Delight of Being Ordinary by Roland Merullo

The Delight of Being Ordinary

Roland Merullo's playful, eloquent, and life-affirming novel finds the Pope and the Dalai Lama teaming up for an unsanctioned road trip through the Italian countryside to rediscover the everyday joys of life that can seem, even for the two holiest men in the world, unattainable.What happens when the Pope and the Dalai Lama decide they need an undercover vacation? During a...

Title:The Delight of Being Ordinary
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0385540922
Number of Pages:320 pages

The Delight of Being Ordinary Reviews

  • Randal White

    Blew My Mind! Imagine if the Pope and the Dalai Lama, together, escaped their entourages and embarked on a tour of the Italian countryside. No minders, no press, completely incognito. That is the very interesting premise of this book. Their experiences range from the ordinary to the extraordinary. The ending, without giving anything away, will blow your mind! Guaranteed to make you feel all warm inside, yet possibly shake you to your core. The author does an amazing job, making the entire caper

    Blew My Mind! Imagine if the Pope and the Dalai Lama, together, escaped their entourages and embarked on a tour of the Italian countryside. No minders, no press, completely incognito. That is the very interesting premise of this book. Their experiences range from the ordinary to the extraordinary. The ending, without giving anything away, will blow your mind! Guaranteed to make you feel all warm inside, yet possibly shake you to your core. The author does an amazing job, making the entire caper feel real, and like you're alongside. This is a book that I'm really glad to have had the opportunity to read, and will be highly recommending to my friends and family. 

  • Robin

    The Delight of Being Ordinary is the reason I read books. How else to take yourself out of the darkness of the headlines, the political controversies, the hate filled rhetoric of our elected officials and government than to read a novel with the Pope and the Dalai Lama as two central characters that team up for a road trip that will make you laugh and appreciate the ordinary things in life as well as the extraordinary. I Loved it!

  • Brenda Schneider

    A wonderfully fun read. I really enjoyed it. I won this book through Goodreads.

  • Rian Nejar

    The book title intrigued me - how did Roland Merullo bring out the essence of simplicity, the joys of shedding pretensions and embracing humility in life - but, in my limited perception, no significant enlightenment in this aspect could be gleaned within. Instead, one finds costumes, a fancy machine, a road trip funded by unlimited Vatican wealth (that, in a handful, could almost pay the bill for said Maserati), Mussolini, and the decadence of It

    The book title intrigued me - how did Roland Merullo bring out the essence of simplicity, the joys of shedding pretensions and embracing humility in life - but, in my limited perception, no significant enlightenment in this aspect could be gleaned within. Instead, one finds costumes, a fancy machine, a road trip funded by unlimited Vatican wealth (that, in a handful, could almost pay the bill for said Maserati), Mussolini, and the decadence of Italian movie stars. Sure, 'great men' are taken out along Italian roads for a few days' break from their exhausting royal duties - an adventure playing truants - which, if you'll excuse me, is rather remote from anything 'ordinary.'

    Let's move on. Spoilers ahead, but you'll forgive me.

    Imaginative?

    The author marries Orthodox Christianity to Buddhist reincarnation and rebirth, and manages to also spring an immaculate conception upon unsuspecting readers near the end. Predictable? Arguably, though he invents a new religion-less religion of a great mother and a great father enjoined in creation. Hmm.

    Just what was he getting at? Let's leave that aside - it is just a road trip, after all. Only, it isn't! It's also a good lot of musings on religion, on similarities and some differences, on doubt, self-doubt, restraint, and reconciliation...a hodge-podge of self-help reading material on Catholicism, Tibetan Buddhism, and various aspects one comes across in contemporary lives. He uses religion, and religious beliefs, in his attempt to get to non-religion. Seemed rather irreverent to me.

    So - having explained the gist in a boring, linear fashion - a few thoughts on the writing. It is engaging and even enjoyable in places. It is a fun story with reasonably rounded characters and inconsequential ones thrown in for good measure. There is an unhealthy obsession with

    within, but given that the adventure is set in Italy, he had to have something to bash - perhaps to make a powerful institution, that in part collaborated with German Nazis, look good in comparison - and a dictator summarily executed by the people he tormented was as good a choice as any. There are descriptions of national tragedies, the Italian countryside, and aspects of the culture that are interesting. There isn't anything exceptional; for want of a better description, let's just say the writing delights in being ordinary.

    A

    received and reviewed.

  • Bob H

    So, the Pope and the Dalai Lama sneak out of the Vatican and take a drive, incognito, across contemporary Italy. It sounds like the setup to a silly joke, but is the premise of a road-trip novel that is by turns comic, introspective, philosophical, and profound. It's fiction, but follows a believable theme, that these two famous men would like to have at least a few days alone and in ordinary settings. The Dalai Lama happens to be visiting the Vatican, the Pope is aware of a tunnel to the Castel

    So, the Pope and the Dalai Lama sneak out of the Vatican and take a drive, incognito, across contemporary Italy. It sounds like the setup to a silly joke, but is the premise of a road-trip novel that is by turns comic, introspective, philosophical, and profound. It's fiction, but follows a believable theme, that these two famous men would like to have at least a few days alone and in ordinary settings. The Dalai Lama happens to be visiting the Vatican, the Pope is aware of a tunnel to the Castel Sant'Angelo, and, abetted by the Pope's (fictional) secretary Paolo, an Italian-American cousin, they slip away from the two dignitaries' security details and escape. Joined by Paolo's estranged wife Rosa, they begin a madcap journey.

    The characters are vivid: the two holy men seem true to their real-life personae, modest, thoughtful, down-to-earth. Paolo, writing in a nervous first-person, is through the story a jittery Sancho Panza, and Rosa, whose cosmetic skills help disguise them, a brassy, frank Napoletana. Their trip is at times somber; the first stop is L'Aquila, a mountain town wrecked by the 2009 quake and slowly recovering. The four, in cars and lodgings, talk more and more candidly about religion, human nature and the state of the world, stopping here and there to take in the scenery and the local cuisine as a national manhunt begins. As a travelogue of Italy, it rings true; as a look at how these four people evolve as they careen through this adventure, it never fails to fascinate or amuse. It's respectful to its characters but can be profound, especially as they encounter surprises among the people they meet and among themselves.

    Great literature? It's difficult to say, but this book is an intriguing, amusing, and often thought-provoking read, highly worthwhile for just about any reader. Highest recommendation.

  • Rebecca Foster

    This has the air of a whimsical religious fable. Narrated by the Pope’s cousin and first assistant, Paolo dePadova, it’s about how the Pope and the Dalai Lama manage to sneak away from the Vatican for a five-day Italian vacation. Paolo is a former travel agent and his ex-wife and co-conspirator, Rosa, is a hair and makeup artist, so they’re the perfect pair to arrange a last-minute road trip in disguises. They take a secret tunnel from the Pope’s private chapel into town and meet Rosa there, whe

    This has the air of a whimsical religious fable. Narrated by the Pope’s cousin and first assistant, Paolo dePadova, it’s about how the Pope and the Dalai Lama manage to sneak away from the Vatican for a five-day Italian vacation. Paolo is a former travel agent and his ex-wife and co-conspirator, Rosa, is a hair and makeup artist, so they’re the perfect pair to arrange a last-minute road trip in disguises. They take a secret tunnel from the Pope’s private chapel into town and meet Rosa there, where she and her colleagues work their magic. The Pope (“Giorgio”) is gotten up as a Scandinavian businessman with a blond hairpiece, while the Dalai Lama (“Tenzin”) is a Yoko Ono-type rock star with a long wig and big glasses. Paolo himself gets a new identity, too: as a darker-skinned Gaddafi lookalike, he gets to experience what it’s like to be a despised minority in rural Italy.

    At first it seems the trip is just a chance for these two holy men to enjoy ordinary life, but gradually we realize that they are also on a religious mission: they’ve been having remarkably similar visions of a special child whom the Dalai Lama believes could be his successor on Earth. The book contains a number of low-key religious debates, most of them initiated by Rosa, and there are pearls of spiritual wisdom dotted through. I especially appreciated what the Dalai Lama has to say to Paolo about why things fell apart between him and Rosa: “We make up stories about the other person. In our minds we build these stories—she is this way, he is that way; look, she always do this, he always do that—and then these things keep us from seeing this person full as they are in present moment.” Some of the plot felt predictable to me, but the characters’ actions and speech are believable.

  • Denise

    The title is exactly right for men with such high status. I enjoyed this book but felt is was more like a road trip of marriage counseling for the Pope's faithful cousin. Put that aside what adventures they had & conversation were said was enjoyable and fun to imagine. And that is what books are for to let our mind live in another world & enjoy.

  • Roger Brunyate

    I am thinking of starting a new bookshelf, labeled "whimsy." It would contain

    quite possibly

    and quite a few books by Alexander McCall Smith. Criteria would include a light narrative style, some humor, a huge suspension of disbelief, and the occasional ability to say something thought-provoking or even profound.

    I am thinking of starting a new bookshelf, labeled "whimsy." It would contain

    quite possibly

    and quite a few books by Alexander McCall Smith. Criteria would include a light narrative style, some humor, a huge suspension of disbelief, and the occasional ability to say something thought-provoking or even profound.

    which is subtitled "A Road Trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama" (yes indeed, the present incumbents of these roles), fits the category hand in glove.

    Author Roland Merullo imagines that Pope Francis has appointed a secular cousin and childhood friend, Paolo dePadova, as his personal assistant. One morning, over their customary breakfast, he tells Paolo that he feels suffocated, and asks him to arrange a four-day getaway, where he can become like an ordinary person again. Oh, and bring the Dalai Lama, who is visiting that day. Paolo, a former travel-agent, obliges, smuggling the two holy men out of the Vatican by a tunnel, and calling in his estranged wife Rosa, a make-up artist, to provide disguises. Rosa (who is a far better organizer than her husband) borrows a luxury Maserati SUV, and drives the other three eastward into the Apennines, to the earthquake-ravaged town of L'Aquila, thence to the mountain hotel where Mussolini was once imprisoned, from there to Rimini on the Adriatic coast, and on northwest to the shores of Lake Como. All this in the teeth of an international manhunt.

    Of course the premise is absurd, but one accepts that. The payoff comes from seeing these two exceptional men outside their ordained roles, sharing a common humanity and a spiritual philosophy that is refreshingly non-doctrinaire. Most of this comes relatively early on their trip, and mostly from Pope Francis, or Giorgio as he prefers to be called. The Dalai Lama (Tenzin) plays second banana rather; perhaps Merullo had exhausted his Buddhist wisdom in his previous novels,

    and its two sequels. There is also the problem that, once the Pope's disappearance becomes public, avoiding detection becomes the main driver of the plot, which gets more and more like a thriller. And Merullo cannot resist excesses of his own, like placing the holy fugitives, in yet more disguises, in the middle of a Felliniesque orgy at the house of an aging film star. Fortunately the last fifty pages become a search for simplicity once more, but they miss the effect Merullo obviously intends, perhaps because they involve characters from another previous novel,

    A further problem is the use of Paolo dePadova as narrator. There is simply not enough from the mouths of the Pope or Dalai Lama directly, and too much of Paolo's rather conventional religious musings, spiced with the feisty irreverence of the irrepressible Rosa. She is meant to be fiery and lovable, I know, but she never came into focus for me as a character, and her worry-wort of a husband (hardly imaginable as a professional fixer) even less so. There are built-in limits to the characterization of Their Holinesses, of course, because the author has to start with what is known and move to what may plausibly be conjectured, but that only makes the treatment of the fictional characters that much more important.

    I started this review intending 3.5 stars, because the novel did keep me reading. I enjoyed the vicarious road trip, and there were some neatly phrased philosophical observations along the way. But all too few of them, and little that was dangerous or truly thought-provoking. The weakness of characterization, the tendency to turn to melodrama rather than trusting the inherent simplicity of the premise, and annoying stylistic tricks like throwing in phrases of Italian only to translate them immediately after—all these are now making me wonder why I even bothered.

    So 2.5 stars, rounded reluctantly down.

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