I got 'introduced' to Elif Shafak through TED Talks. I was surfing the site one day when I came across an interesting video called ' The Politics of Fiction'. Being a prolific reader I was intrigued about why politics was being mixed with fiction and how was it relevant? Elif Shafak impressed me with her talk on perceptions that authors have to face in their own field and from their peers.
It prompted me to want to read her books and so the first one that I laid my hands on was 'Forty Rules of Love'. I'm glad about the co-incidence that got me to TED Talks.
Forty Rules of Love is in part a love story, in part history, in part a representation of life as we know today and in part the transformational power of friendship. The book starts off as a simple story of Ella, a jewish housewife in Massachusetts whose life is going nowhere. Her life revolves around her family and has settled into a mundane existance. Her husband cheats on her, her children don't love or understand her and everyone takes her for granted. Into this boring existance she is delivered a manuscript that she must review.
Through the book 'Sweet Blasphemy' written by a first time author Aziz Zahara, Ella travels to 13th century where she meets a travelling dervish Shams of Tabriz and his travails to meet his destiny with Mawlana Rumi. As she reads the book, Ella starts to understand the reason for her angst against the world and her bleak outlook to life. She starts corresponding with Aziz and unwittingly finds herself falling in love with him and understanding the different forms of love.
The book shifts between the two stories of Shams' and Rumi in 13th Century and Ella and Aziz in present day. Ella's story is written in third person while the other story is in first person from the perspectives of different people in the story. This can sometimes take a little time to understand as to who is narrating the story now.
Rumi and Sham's story is authentic history. Prior to his meeting with Shams-e Tabrizi, Rumi was an accomplished teacher, cleric and a maulana in a mosque. His friendship with Shams' exposes him to the highest degree of love; not in the romantic sappy Valentine form but love in its purest form - love for fellow being, love for God, love for life - and transforms him into an ascetic and a modern purveyor of Sufism. Its a beautiful story
- Of Realisation - Rumi's realisation that life was so empty before Shams)
- Of Dedication and Loyalty - Rumi's dedication to the teachings of Shams' inspite of the world branding him a heretic and ruing his slide into oblivion from the highest office of the mosque
- Of Differing perspectives to the same story - each member of Rumi's family has a different perspective to what is happening to Rumi - from his wife, to each of his sons, to his adopted daughter and to the different people that are exposed to Shams
- Of Heartbreak - Rumi's abject depression when Shams' disappears from his life
- Of Joy and Fear - Rumi's joy to see Shams' back but his fear that he will go away again
- Of Acceptance and Transformation - Rumi's state when Shams' is murdered and his transformation into a poet using the pain of his loss
Just as Shams-e Tabrizi had opened Rumi's eyes to the glorious forms of love and the joy of finding love and keeping it, so does Aziz and his book open Ella's eyes and world to the joys of letting love into one's life. 'Forty Rules of Love' is a book about the transformational power of love and friendship and it will transform you too.
Elif Shafak's writing style is simple and understated. While Ella and Aziz's characters and story is not too fleshed out, 'Forty Rules of Love' is really the story about Rumi and Shams-e Tabrizi. The modern day story seems superimposed to give the book a contemporary feel and make it appeal to a wider audience. The book could have stood alone as the story of Rumi and Shams'. While the 13th century story keeps you engrossed and turning the pages, there are times when Ella's story seems to intrude on the flow and you want it to get over fast. Elif Shafak too seems to have devoted less attention to Ella's story not giving us enough reasons for her angst and transformation.
From the first rule " How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind most fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we" to the fortieth "A life without love is of no account. Dont ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western - Decisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water!" the book is filled with nuggets that will open your eyes, make you think and transform you a little bit.
Forty Rules of LOve is a book that must be read again and again at different times of your life. I rate it 5/5.