[Book Review] The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

A not-so-aesthetic shot of the book

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.

– Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love

I’d been putting away reading this book for a long time. The subject that the title suggests the book is about made me apprehensive about reading it. I’d become totally jaded about love, and the last thing I wanted to read was a book convincing me that I needed it in my life. A couple of months ago, I felt really drawn to it (yeah, I’m kooky that way), like it was something I had to read. Maybe I wanted to test my capacity to persevere through a subject that makes me uncomfortable.

I mean I was wallowing in heartbreak anyway, how could this book make it any worse? I dreaded what the book’s contents would do to my emotional wellness (I still wasn’t aware of what its contents were). But I also hoped to learn a thing or two about love. The title says ‘Forty Rules’ after all.

Okay, enough about me. Let’s get on to the book.

The book narrates two stories in parallel, one set in present-day US and the other in 13th Century Konya. The former follows Ella Rubenstein, a 40-year-old homemaker who has a realization that she has spent her life being the perfect mother and wife, and hasn’t done much for herself. She is also trying to accept that she and her husband have fallen out of love with each other. The latter follows Sufi mystics Shams of Tabriz and Rumi, their relationship with each other, and how their worlds came crashing around them because of it.

Ella takes up a job as a reader for a literary agency, and her first assignment is ‘Sweet Blasphemy’, a novel on Rumi and Shams by first-time novelist Aziz Zahara. She feels drawn to the author, and starts an email conversation with him. This narrative is rather predictable, and some of the descriptive parts felt like the reader was being spoon fed.

In comparison, Rumi’s story is beautifully told. There is so much poetry in the way the author describes events and people. Sample this:

My heart skipped a beat. I had never heard his name before. He could be a famous scholar for all I knew, but to me he was a complete mystery. One by one, I said the letters of his name: the powerful, lucid R; the velvety U; the intrepid and self-confident M; and the mysterious I, yet to be solved.

Bringing the letters together, I repeated his name over and over again until the word melted on my tongue with the sweetness of candy and became as familiar as “water”, “bread”, or “milk.”

– Shams of Tabriz, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

And it is in this story that we learn of the Forty Rules of Love. In this story, the love discussed is spiritual, associated with God. The Forty Rules help one attain God. The story felt like a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. The tight knots in my heart loosened, I am not kidding. It also felt very grounding; I even closed the book feeling a sliver of hope. It was just the anchor I needed to hold on to during a turbulent time.

It’s not the best writing out there, but the Rumi-Shams story is beautiful. And yes, if you are looking for some comfort, this book is a great option.

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