Book Review

Book Review: The Forty Rules Of Love by Elif Shafak

Title: The Forty Rules Of LoveThe Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

Author: Elif Shafak

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Publisher

Language: English

Setting Place:  Northampton, Massachusetts; Baghdad, Iran

Major Characters:  Ella Rubenstien, Shams of Tabriz, Rumi

Theme:  Love, Spiritual, History, Pain

Narration Type: First person narration by several characters.


Book Summary: The Forty Rules of Love

The Forty Rules of Love is a delightful entanglement of two narratives – one set in the contemporary times with Ella, a housewife as the protagonist.  Hers is a story of lost love and hope, till she finds herself changed because of a book she must read as a part of her new job’s obligations. The second narrative is that of the book ‘Sweet Blasphemy’, set in the 13th century, which portrays the lives and relationships of Shams of Tabriz and Rumi.

As the plot unfolds, Ella goes finds herself mesmerized with the tale she is currently reading and decides to take lessons from the philosophy of the forty rules of love, laid down by the Shams of Tabriz.

She is ultimately led to believe, her relationship and lives are meant to be altered by the author of the book, Aziz Zahara – as was Rumi’s life altered by the Shams of Tabriz.


Book Review: The Forty Rules of Love

Ella Rubenstein, an unhappy forty-year old housewife with a cheating husband and three children; always the kind of person your mother would approve of! She couldn’t comprehend why she had these misgivings. Over the time, she has grown complacent with her agonised life, giving up on love and hope. She continues to lead her day-to-day life, drowning herself with household chores and avoiding conflicts.

Being a housewife for several years, her life finally takes a turn when she must review a book – ‘Sweet Blasphemy’, as a part of her new job’s obligations, as a literary reviewer. Ever since she read the first sentence, the book binds her as its own. She sets the ball rolling with a series of heartfelt conversations through emails with none other than the author Aziz Zahara himself.

“Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”

Set in the 13th century, it portrays the journey of a rather famous pair – Shams of Tabriz and Rumi.

Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish and thorough Sufi, frames the forty rules of love which he imparts to fellow Sufi enthusiasts. By virtue of his gift of having visions about future, he foresees his own death. He decides to pass on his wisdom to someone at par with him, someone as soulful and in love as he is.

He travels all the way to Baghdad to find Rumi, a cleric with an unsettled soul. On the course of his imparting knowledge, he faces hatred and disappointment from other people, especially Rumi’s family. Despite all odds and dangers, he shows the path of light and love to Rumi; thus attributing to his becoming one of the most sought-after Sufi and poet of all times.

“If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”

Shafak, being a staunch feminist herself, makes sure her female characters are the strongest and gripping. The 13th century plot is particularly polyphonic, thus guiding us to the various perspectives of people around and not just the Shams of Tabriz, be it the barren harlot, the roadside leper or the amateur intern at a madrassa.

There are symbolic parallels between the plot in the 13th century and the one in current times – The era of social turmoil, people disagreeing on religious beliefs of others, the forty rules with the age of the protagonist(and why it’s the best time of her life, in fact), the unsettling, lovelorn heart of Rumi as is Ella’s, the guiding light that Shams is for Rumi, as Aziz is for Ella; and the significant outcomes of these unnamed associations. The plot with Ella, is probably the weaker story-line of the two; with only Ella’s thoughts being voiced and not any of the other characters in her life.

This is a recommended read for all poetry aficionados and Rumi admirers like me. This one’s for the soul!

Review by Lopita Dash

Buy Now: The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

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