Some books exist for entertainment, some for knowledge and some for enlightenment. The Forty Rules of Love is all of the above. Suggested by many, I bought this book not knowing what to expect; I hadn’t read any review or plot or even the back cover before journeying with Elif Shafak. And a journey it was.
The first couple of chapters were confusing to me since I hadn’t realized it was a novel within a novel. The story of Ella, a reader for a literary agent, parallels the story in the book assigned to her. The former is set in the twenty-first century and follows the life of a bored Jewish housewife who is sent a book to read and appraise by Sufi author, Aziz Zahara named “Sweet Blasphemy”. Sweet Blasphemy is the second narrative of this novel, set in the thirteenth century, it follows the voyage of a wandering dervish, Shams of Tabriz and the love and friendship he develops with the Muslim guru, Jalaluddin Rumi. Ella, having been introduced to the mystic world of Sufism through Zahara, decides to get in touch with the mysterious author and sets off on a journey of self-discovery and authentic love. In parallel, Shams sets off on a journey to find a soulmate, not a guru nor a student but an equal to share knowledges with, until he finally meets Rumi and the two discover a new face of love and become intertwined on a mystic level.
I enjoyed this novel for many reasons, most of which are Shams of Tabriz. There is a lot to learn from his forty rules of love and the little places he finds God in, he changed my perspective on love and brought me that much closer to learning its undefined nature. His story shows the hypocrisy of some religious views and offers a new path to spirituality, he teaches Rumi to break ties with social and earthly restraints and focus on his own heart (he sets different challenges for his friend like ordering wine in a tavern and even drinking a sip of it to truly learn its nature, separating it from the scrutiny of religion).
Shams even teaches Ella to look within and take daring steps to change her own life and find the love she carries, one chapter at a time.
Today, you can meet the gentle, the friend, the lover, Shamsi Tabriz in most of Rumi’s poetry. The collection was even gathered into a separate book, “Warriors of Love: Rumi’s Odes to Shams of Tabriz”, in which one poem reads “My place is in the Placeless, my trace in the Traceless; I am neither body nor soul, as I belong to the soul of the Beloved”.
The attention to detail presented in this book is fascinating, for example, each chapter begins with the letter B. For Sufi mystics, the secret of the Kur’an lies in Al-Fatiha, the essence of which lies in bismillahalrahmanalrahim (in the name of Allah, the Benevolent and Merciful). The first letter B contains a dot in the Arabic calligraphy that is said to contain the universe.
There is so much more to say about The Forty Rules of Love, however, it is easy to fall into poetic and philosophical interpretations, which I would rather leave to you. If you read this book, talk to me about it, I would love to revisit the world of love Shafak created with all of you.
Enjoy and always bring a book home. x