The subtitle of this novel says everything about why it appealed to me from the start:
A Road Trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama
Then there was the author's note:
I am inclined to put my trust in spiritual figures who show a sense of humor, rather than those who take everything—including themselves—with a miserable seriousness. Life can be harsh, yes. The struggle to live a meaningful life, however we define that, can be rich with problems and challenges. But humor exists to soften the sharp edges of things. And so Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, both of whom laugh a lot, seem to me like wise teachers, extraordinary men in the difficult position of guiding billions of followers, of steering vessels with a heavy cargo of good and bad history, in the same general direction, across the rough seas of modem life.
That right there is guaranteed to get my attention. At school, part of the curriculum was world religions, because, as the nuns said, you can't respect what you don't understand.
So, a story about the Pope and the Dalai Lama dodging their security teams and going on a 4 day road trip? Yes please! When it arrived I couldn't wait to get stuck into it, and what better day to read it than Good Friday?
It was so much more than I expected; true, I didn't quite know what to expect - I bought it on blind faith and the subtitle, but there was the humorous road trip I'd expected, plus theology, and mystical adventure and ultimately, the story of a marriage in crises and a startling narrative on the emotional baggage a relationship accumulates over time.
I didn't go the whole-hog 5 stars because even though I loved it, it did drag in a few places. I think this is my fault; I couldn't put the book down and there's a lot of (really interesting) theology here; real, everyday, relatable theology, and I think the pacing would have worked better had I read this over several sessions, savouring instead of devouring it. Also, the MC and narrator, Paolo, and his wife Rosa are a little too real. The reader is truly inside Paolo's head and that insight to his thoughts is not always comfortable; he's a good man, but he's deeply flawed.
As much as I love this book, I can't honestly say it's for everyone. Those who have confidently turned away from faith in anything greater than man need not bother, although the book does offer an accurate view of what faith should be about. Those who do categories themselves as spiritual or religious or faithful might find this interesting, but it's going to depend on the rigidity of those beliefs. There are as many flavours of Christianity as there are stars in the sky (almost/not really) and RC offends quite a few of them. And even RCs might have a tough time swallowing the ending; I admit I balked myself, at first. What Merullo offers as a plot twist is confronting and I can't say reacted any better than Paolo did (at first).
Still, I loved this book; there are so many parts that resonated, from the faith through to the marriage. I adored Pope Francis before this book, and still do, but now, I might have a bit of a crush on the Dalai Lama. :)