Book review of “The Forty Rules of Love”


I love to read but am more of an occasional reader, not a voracious one and so I don’t usually repeat reading what I already have.  But this particular book is different as for me, it turned out to be beyond mere fiction. It’s not really the story that’ll attract me again to the book but what it conveys at the spiritual level. No, it doesn’t preach and it doesn’t advise but trying to understand what the book conveys certainly quenches the thirst that longs to create peace with self and others, …that longs to be attached yet detached, …that longs to relate to mainly one emotion which is love – for everyone and everything.

The Turkish author Elif Shafak had first written this book in English and then got it translated to Turkish by a translator. She later took this translation and rewrote it. When the Turkish version was ripe and ready, she went back to the English version and rewrote it with a new spirit. Wow, some dedication and passion for perfection, I should say. The Turkish version is called “Aşk” meaning love and  English version is called “The Forty Rules of Love”

Elif Shafak and her book in Turkish and English versions

I came across a talk by Elif Shafak called ‘The Politics of Fiction” on Ted.com which pushed me to read a little about her to get acquainted with her work and life. I later wanted to know more about the stories she had to share and get introduced to her writing style. That’s how I chose to pick up this book in my reading list.

‘The Forty Rules of Love” isn’t some usual romantic fiction that one can easily come across among a plethora of options that are available. Love in this book is rather at a spiritual level and in its purest form possible. Love here is explained as a feeling and an experience in your thoughts, your way of life and your behaviour towards self and others. The book ideally speaks of love inspired by Sufism but I believe that different people from different spheres can relate the same from their own religious or spiritual beliefs and at the same time experience the spiritual beauty of Sufism.

The book consists of two stories narrated parallelly. One of Ella and Aziz set in 21st century largely in Northampton, Massachusetts and the other of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz set in 13th century largely in Konya. Ella Rubeinstein is a 40 year old doting home-maker living with her husband, three kids and a dog in an ideal home. On the face of it, she leads a usual life that is often ‘stereotyped’ for housewives across the globe but she seems content with it. However, inside she feels empty but is clueless as to how she can fill the vacuum she suffers. Apparently, she takes up a job of a part-time reader for a literary agent on insistence of her husband and gets to reading the book “Sweet Blasphemy” written by a first-time author Aziz Zahara as her first assignment.

“Sweet Blasphemy” reveals the story of a wandering Sufi dervish, Shams of Tabriz, in search of a true companion that he finds in Rumi, an Islamic Scholar (Mawlana) who transforms into a poet after meeting Shams. As Ella keeps turning pages of “Sweet Blasphemy” she realises an attraction towards its author, Aziz and begins exchanging an interaction via e-mails with him. With time, she becomes aware that the emptiness she feels is because she lacks love in her life and she finds true love in Aziz. So, at a time the book unfolds the story of Shams introducing the beauty of love and friendship to Rumi along with Aziz and his book revealing the abundance of love and joy in this world to Ella and training her to let love enter her life. The book infact has enough potential to transform and entwine its readers into the world of love and friendship too.

One of the things that I loved about the book is its unique writing style. Each chapter of the book begins with the name of the character that talks in first person, except for Ella’s part which is written in third person. The language is beautiful and poetic yet easy. Though the book shares two different stories, not once does it get its readers confused and rather brings in a beautiful balance that makes reading all the more interesting. Another thing to notice in the book is that each chapter begins with the letter ‘B’, which I guess is a deliberate attempt as it is believed in Islam that by saying Bismillah in front of everything, you attach it to the Eternal. Personally, I was moved by this gesture as to me it depicts the author’s honest intentions to spread the message of love and spirituality by her piece of work that keeps the essence of the faith she believes in.

The characters Shams of Tabriz and Rumi are inspired from real life people – Shams-i-Tabrīzī or Shams al-Din Mohammad and Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī. Even quite a few events between Shams and Rumi are inspired from their lives but the forty rules of love laid down by Shams were shaped by Elif Shafak as she was writing the book. It is ideally these forty rules of love that I would treasure for a lifetime.

I have deliberately tried to not reveal too much from the book as I would wish the readers to experience every page, every character and every emotion of the book themselves.

My rating: 5/5