It was at a book club that the group decided to read Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love. As a guy, I was somewhat hesitant to read this as a preconceived notion about this books set in; it’s a chick-lit. However, after having read this book, I have to say I am glad I did, for indeed the Forty Rules of Love (and Life) provided a great insight into the genius world of Persian poet Rumi and wandering dervish Shamz of Tabriz.
The setting is a modern day America where we meet Ella Rubenstein, a 40-year woman with a husband who is distant, and three teenagers, who are drawing away from her. She has everything going on for her and her family, everything that should make her happy and fulfilled, but she’s not. There is a vast emptiness in her life which renders her unfulfilled in life.
Ella is given a job by her friend to proof read a novel, Sweet Blasphemy by Aziz Zahara, a novelist based in Amsterdam. She starts an email correspondence with him in order to get to know the novel better. What draws Ella into reading this novel is the note that Aziz Zahara included with the manuscript:
“In many ways the twenty first century is not that different from the thirteenth century. Both will be recorded in history as times of unprecedented religious clashes, cultural misunderstandings, and a general sense of insecurity and fear of the Other. At times like these, the need for love is greater than ever.”
This is the moment that Ella realizes that her personal life is missing this kind of love.
Diving into the novel Sweet Blasphemy immediately, we follow the moments in the life of wandering Persian Dervish, Shamz of Tabriz, in the 13th Century, and his inspirational relationship with poet Jalal al Din Rumi. Through the fascinating and interesting interaction between Shamz and Rumi, we see the gradual transformation of Rumi into a committed mystic, a passionate poet and huge advocate for love.
We are taken through the Forty Rules of Love that teaches us lessons in life, spirituality and most importantly love. Ella realises by the end of it all that she herself, just like Rumi, has been transformed as a human being, through her correspondence with Aziz Zahara, who is just like Shamz to her.
The chapters in the novel alternate between Ella’s dialogue with Aziz Zahara and Shamz and Rumi’s interaction, which makes for a great read. Though personally speaking, I found Ella’s segment in the novel a tad bit boring because it’s predictable and you can’t just wait to get back to Shamz and Rumi. There isn’t any emotional connection to Ella which prohibits the reader to feel any sympathy for her.
However, the novel kicks in massively when we get to Rumi and Shamz. There is an air of mysticism and magic, along with spirituality, that makes for a rather interesting reading. There are many rules of love that I think most of us can apply to our own lives: personal development, loneliness, reciprocity, God’s timing and achieving love for self and this is what makes the book a great read: it’s a relatable book.
It’s an easy to read novel, and Shafak does a brilliant job of merging the Eastern and Western world together, which is evident from the author’s own personal background. There is no doubt that Rumi is a huge influence in the world of literature all over, so much so, Hollywood is now making a movie on Rumi (with rumours of Leonardo di Caprio portraying Rumi).
Shafak also made the right decision to stick a more populist avenue rather than a scholarly work on Rumi. This allows for someone who is completely unfamiliar with Rumi’s work to take everything in and not be bogged down with his poetry. In other words, The Forty Rules of Love is that perfect book to introduce anyone to the world of Rumi’s teachings. I’ve highlighted all the forty rules in the book and go back often to reread them to remind myself of several things that I tend to overlook, especially with regards to patience, gratitude and change in life.
Along with Paulo Coelho, Elif Shafak has made a place for herself in the literature world as one of the authors to watch out for. The novel has become of those must read books in today’s time, especially for those who are seeking for a higher purpose in their lives. Magical, mystical and mesmerising, The Forty Rules of Love should make a permanent place on your bookshelf for it’s timely and a feel good message for the world we live in today.
Originally published in Royal Palm Country and Golf Club Magazine, Annual Edition July 2016