The Delight of Being Ordinary: A Road Trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama by Roland Merullo [in Booklist]
Once adventurous Paolo de Padova has aged into the cautious first assistant to his cousin, the pope. Just before the Dalai Lama’s Vatican visit, His Holiness asks Paolo for a nearly impossible favor: to plan “an unofficial vacation” that includes the Dalai Lama.
Initially Paolo thinks “signs of dementia,” but the pope’s earnestness inspires him to call his estranged wife, Rosa, a renowned hair and makeup artist, who disguises the holy duo as a wealthy tourist and possible rock star. Paolo becomes “a boat-people,” an immigrant often mistreated by locals, guaranteeing a pope-approved lesson in compassion.
Exploring the Italian countryside, the travelers experience “the delight of being ordinary,” even while chasing holy visions involving Mussolini and mysterious children. Whimsical and irreverent, Roland Merullo’s parable meanders through divine doctrines and human relationships, attaining insights where least expected.
In spite of one exasperating detail – only the Dalai Lama, the sole non-Caucasian, speaks in broken English, although none of the characters fluently share a language; that the single non-Caucasian is made further alien ironically detracts from an otherwise charming story celebrating connections over divisions. Devotees of Merullo’s Buddha Trilogy, including Dinner with Buddha (2015), will be especially thrilled with the concluding revelations.
Review: modified from “Fiction,” Booklist, March 1, 2017