Elif Shafak is a Turkish author and feminist born in France. Known for her best seller “The Bastard of Istanbul”, Shafak had gained more fame when she wrote “The Forty Rules of Love”
The Forty Rules of Love is a parallel of two narratives: a contemporary one, wherein we get to know about Ella’s life, and a 13th-century one, in which—through a novel, The Sweet Blasphemy—we learn about , Shams Tabrizi, a dervish, and Mawlana Jalal Ad-Din Rumi, the famous scholar, later a poet, whose poems echoed through and through.
Ella Rubenstein, a woman on the verge to turn forty, a mother of three, a wife to a wealthy husband, is a regular housewife—whose feminist friends tried to deter her from staying home, and whose passion is cooking—who experiences a major turning point in her life. Love, that is.
Ella’s twenty years of marriage hadn’t made her think once that she lacked love, that her husband was careless, that he had affairs. To her own surprise, she felt unhappy. For once, she never thought she could love again. In this light, Ella worked as an editor in a literary agency. She was assigned a book to write a report on and submit it to the agency. Little did she know that Sweet Blasphemy, written by Aziz Zahra, was the stone to disrupt her still waters.
At first, she was reluctant as to whether write a report since she did not feel quite good. She even called the secretary to let her know that she’d drop the assignment, but then she realised she should give it a try. Sweet Blasphemy is a novel about a mystic Sufi and Dervish, Shams Tabrizi, who envisions his death, then asks God to find him a companion to which he can confine and pass him the knowledge he bears.
When Shams Tabrizi travelled from Samarkand to Baghdad, he learnt about a famous scholar in Konya that goes by the name of Jalaluddin Rumi. There the events unfold when Shams meets his lifetime companion, Jalaluddin Rumi. Characterised by his wit and wisdom, Shams taught Rumi so many things that he was ignorant about, including his famous forty rules of love, and they would later lock themselves up in the library to discuss a new religion, a religion of love. What is more, Shams insisted on Rumi to not only preach from the highest of places. He should mingle with the underbelly of the society, for it is hard to know one’s suffering unless you were in their shoes. And so decided Rumi to stop delivering his sermons.
The bond that gathered the two is indescribable. Rumi’s void was filled with Shams’s love. However, most of Konya’s population spared only hatred to Shams, for they thought he’s a heretic, even Rumi’s son, Aladdin, who was involved later in the killing of Shams. Rumi’s love to Shams was as pure as Mary the virgin. In fact, as Shams insisted that Rumi is a poet, he did turn into one, though Rumi never thought of himself as a poet. This love beguiled the population of Konya. They thought it was beyond a friendship. The love that linked them was simply beyond recognition; an ungraspable love that even a couple wouldn’t experience. If anything, I likened their love to that of Ragnar Lodbrok to Athlesthan in the Vikings TV show.
Going back to Ella, one e-mail to the original writer of the novel was sufficient to trigger a whole series of event that later resulted in falling in love with Aziz, who in turn tells her about his story. If you ask me, Ella and Aziz are both an incarnation of Rumi and Shams, respectively. Shams is a dervish wanderer, so is Aziz, whose passion was photography and travelling to places that were strange and unknown. Ella, on the other hand, had the same void as that of Rumi. The gap was finally filled when Shams inaugurated Rumi’s life and so did Ella’s when Aziz became part of her. Alas, the two were destined to mourn—Ella and Rumi—when they lost their loved ones.
The narrative is based on perspectives; that is, the reader is introduced to sceneries according to each character’s eyes. De facto, it underlies the multitude of views towards a subject matter. The reader, then, gets a chance to analyse these views accordingly. So many writers have used this style of writing, e.g. William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying.)
This masterpiece, I suppose, is one of the cheerful novels I have read in 2017. And what a way it is, indeed, to inaugurate a year with love!
There’s this part in the novel which I relentlessly relate to since I write poetry, and I have a struggle whether to label myself as one since I do not abide by the rules. Luckily, Rumi was there to help me out:
Four years ago I began to recite The Mathnawi. The first line came to me one day at dawn apropos of nothing, while I was watching the sunlight slice the dark. Ever since then the poems spill out of my lips as if by a force of their own. (…) It is thanks to them [His son and Saladdin] that the poems survived, because the truth is, if asked to repeat any one of them today, I don’t think I could. Prose or poetry, the words come to me in flocks and then leave just as suddenly, like migrating birds. I am only the bed of water where they stop and rest on their way to warmer lands.
When I start a poem, I never know beforehand what I’m going to say. It could be long or it could be short. I don’t plan it. And when the poem is over, I’m quiet again. I live in silence.[i]
[i] Shafak, Elif. The forty rules of love. New York: Viking, 2010. Print.