Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules Of Love was a new kind of book for me. It is very different from the kind of books that I usually read. I picked it up because I had seen great reviews for the book on several book blogs, and because the storyline sounded very, very interesting.
The Forty Rules Of Love has a story within a story. One of these stories is about a housewife, Ella, in Northampton, England, in 2008, fast approaching middle age and feeling stuck in her life and in her marriage to David. A major in English, Ella is thrilled to get the opportunity to work as a book reviewer for a publishing house. That is how she gets her hands on a novel by a writer called Aziz Z Zahara, called Sweet Blasphemy, which has not yet been published. Sweet Blasphemy is the story of the friendship between the famous poet and philosopher Rumi and his soulmate, a whirling dervish called Shams of Tabriz, in the city of Konya in Central Anatolia, Turkey, in 1245. Ella soon gets absorbed in the story of Rumi and Shams,and thereby begins a flurry of letters and e-mails between her and Aziz. Ultimately, Sweet Blasphemy changes Ella’s life in more ways than one.
I liked the way the author has told both stories – there are chapters narrated by the viewpoints of different characters who are part of them. The chapters alternate between the stories of Ella and Aziz, and Rumi and Shams.
The book intrigued me enough to read up online about the real-life friendship between Shams and Rumi, and about Rumi’s poetry. I learnt that Shams had a deep influence on Rumi, and was responsible for changing Rumi from a mere spiritual speaker to one of the greatest poets of his time. I read a few of Rumi’s poems and quotes, and was literally mesmerised. I would love to read more of that, soon. The book made me long to watch whirling dervishes in action some time in my life.
I loved the unique storyline of The Forty Rules Of Love, and the way it touches upon different topics – ranging from love to God and religion and spirituality. I loved the way the forty important Sufi rules of love have been incorporated in the book. It made me think a lot about the Sufi way of life, and introspect.
That said, I did not like certain aspects of the book – for instance, the love between Rumi and Shams overshadowing their respective families, and leading to their being ignored completely. I would have liked it if Rumi and Shams had tried to maintain a balance between their love for each other and their worldly lives.
Some parts of the book are extremely predictable, like Ella’s falling in love with Aziz. Ella was so influenced by Sweet Blasphemy that she left her husband of twenty years and moved out of his house by the time she had finished reading the manuscript, and I found that too far-fetched. A book can change your life, no doubt, but it usually does so in small, subtle ways which, over time, might bring on bigger changes. I found Ella’s decisions a little too sudden, and less believable. Of course, not all was well in David and Ella’s marriage to begin with, and it could be assumed that Sweet Blasphemy forced Ella to think and bring about a change in her life.
All in all, I liked the book and enjoyed the experience of reading it. It was a good read majorly, and would have been even better for me if a few things had been treated differently.
Have you read this book? What did you think about it?