Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Şafak

Guest Post written by Tathagata Neogi

The Forty Rules of Love
Elif Şafak
Originally 2009, I read 2011
355 pages, Sufi romance

Parallel tales of love

On a chilly winter morning in the 13th century, a dervish named Shams of Tabriz arrives at the town of Konya in central Turkey. He had travelled all the way from Baghdad in order to meet the renowned philosopher Rumi, who is destined to be his spiritual partner. Eight centuries later in Massachusetts, Ella Rubenstein, an unhappily married mother of three, receives her first book manuscript for review, a novel named Sweet Blasphemy. The manuscript that she hesitantly starts reading narrates the story of Shams of Tabriz’s meeting with Rumi and how it transformed both their lives, and lives of those associated with them. Will it transform Ella’s life too? Will it change her perspective on life and help her to fall in love once again? 

Read a sample: 

An incredible personal journey

Forty Rules of Love is a tantalising tale of love and fulfillment. Through a parallel tale of spiritual companionship between Rumi and Shams, and an efflorescent romance between their fictional modern day chronicler Aziz and the reviewer of his manuscript, Ella, Şafak takes us on a fascinating journey through infatuation, longing, grief, lust, jealousy, deceit, happiness, loss and, eventually, spiritual fulfillment.

A wide range of independent characters

Şafak allows each character ample space to develop independently. All characters speak from their own perspective and take the story forward. Shams, a wandering Sufi dervish, is defiant against displays of unscrupulous self-pride and wealth.  His unbounded love for every human being irrespective of social background sets the principal trajectory for this novel. Shams’ theosophy, the “Forty Rules of Love," is one of the basic tenets of Sufi thought, and provides the philosophical foundation of Şafak's novel. 

Then there is Rumi, a renowned, well respected and wealthy Islamic philosopher of Konya, who finds a perfect spiritual mentor and companion in Shams. First tested and then guided by Shams, Rumi’s elitism and pride is flushed out. Rumi gradually transforms into a dervish at heart and discovers the poet in himself. 

There are social pariahs like Suleiman the drunk and Desert Rose the harlot whose lives are touched and transformed by Shams’ compassion. There is Aladdin, Rumi’s younger son who hates Shams and Kerra, Rumi’s second wife, who is jealous of Shams for hogging all of Rumi’s attention, as well as Kimya, Rumi’s adopted daughter, who falls in love with Shams. Even peripheral characters like the zealot and his nephew, the guard, the hired assassin and the master of the Sufi lodge in Baghdad, have independent character development without affecting the flow of the narrative. 

In the parallel storyline, Ella rediscovers the meaning of romance and finds her self-worth through her love for Aziz, the writer of Sweet Blasphemy, who, to her, becomes an embodiment of Shams of Tabriz. Ella emerges from being a mute and obscure housewife to a strong and self-confident character.

A masterpiece of modern Sufi romance

Şafak’s masterstroke lay in her exquisite language and ability to weave these independent strands into a holistic narrative of Sufi romance. She successfully introduces her western audience to the legacy of Rumi, the poet and the principal tenets of Sufism, in simple yet beautiful language.

Where we found it: a primarily Turkish-language bookstore in Antalya, Turkey

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