Book Reviews

The Forty Rules of Love : Elif Shafak

A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western…Divisions 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 itself different when fire loves water.

Forty Rules of LoveShort Overview

Ella is a housewife, leading a comfortable but mundane life in suburban Massachusetts. Her world revolves around her husband and her three children. But, she has now started to realise her diminishing worth in their lives; her husband is a serial philanderer and as her children are growing up; they need her less and less. To break the monotony of her life, she accepts the job of an editorial assistant and the first book she is given to assess is “Sweet Blasphmemy” by A. Z. “Aziz” Zahara.  Aziz’s book is based on the companionship between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz; and its manuscript forms the parallel narrative of the book. Ella begins correspondence with the author of the book and he makes her realise that she is missing a very important thing in life; love. While she had always thought of love being as just a transient thing; not necessary to sustain life in the long run; she now begins to realise its true importance. But will this realisation liberate her, or will it completely shake the foundations of life that she has built so far; just as Rumi’s life was shaken up when Shams came to his life.

My thoughts on the book

I had picked up the book thinking it would be an intense love story. I was pleasantly surprised. The book is actually a very innovative way of spreading the teachings of Sufism, the religion that basically preaches love. These teachings are conveyed through the voices of two of its most renowned scholars, Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. The timelessness of these teachings is such that it helps a lady in the twentieth century to deal with the crisis that she is facing in her life.

The authors masterstroke was to present the story of Shams and Rumi from a lot of perspectives. The different voices create an atmosphere that transports the readers to the Konya of Rumi’s time. It also shows that it was not always that they were universally loved; there was a time when they had a lot of opponents. Rumi’s wife Kerra and his son Aladin were completely against his companionship with Shams. This goes on to show that any new idea does not find widespread acceptance immediately; it takes a while for the society to warm up to anything that challenges the established school of thought. On the other hand, they found acceptance from the most marginalised quarters, like a prostitute and a drunk. Their idea of religion did not treat these people as filth, but as living, breathing humans.

Real filth is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure waters, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul. You can purify your body through abstinence and fasting, but only love will purify your heart.

The most beautiful aspect of the book is the relationship between Rumi and Shams and in present day, the one between Ella and Aziz. Rumi was looking for a companion and Shams thought that he could be one. However, what Rumi did not know was that he was meeting his soul mate; one who would embellish his knowledge, just like a jeweller polishes carbon and turns it to diamond. Before meeting him, Rumi was a renowned preacher and scholar; after meeting him, Rumi would become a poet; a title that made him immortal for posterity. Shams made Rumi see world in new light, mainly because he made him see God in a different light.

Nothing should stand between yourself and God. Not imams, priests, rabbis or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. Not spiritual masters, not even your faith. Believe in your values and your rules, but never lord them over others. If you keep breaking other people’s hearts, whatever religious duty you perform is no good.

Stay away from all sorts of idolatry, for they will blur your vision. Let God and only God be your guide. Learn the Truth, my friend, but be careful not to make a fetish out of your truths.

Aziz’s friendship with Ella helps her discover what she has been missing the most in her life, love. Ella is a creature of habit; who finds a certain solace in the routine of her life. Aziz makes her aware that a live without love is not worth living. Love cannot be replaced by other comforts of life, neither can it lose its significance over time. He gives her the courage to move forward; leaving behind all that doesn’t make her happy.

It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change within?”. Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There is only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.”

The forty teachings of Shams have been “fitted” very well into the narrative. The flow of thoughts is very situational, which prevents the narrative from being didactic. That is also the beauty of these teachings; they apply to all types of people and all types of situations in any given day and age.

I will certainly remember the book for its prose, but more for the ideas that it put across. It has taught me about different aspects of love; the love of a man for a woman, the love of man for God and also the love of man for self.

The quest for Love changes us. there is no seeker among those who search for Love who has not matured on the way. the moment you start looking for Love, you start to change within and without.

Overall rating: 3.75/5



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