Intriguing, imaginative, and decidedly irreverent.
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? Certo. 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 Il Duce 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 Goodreads Giveaway received and reviewed.