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 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


Book review of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”

Millennium I: Made golf club into a potential defense weapon…

Millennium II: Used a cigarette case as an effective grave-digging tool…

Millennium III: Emerged as a “full-on” vengeance machine even when bed-ridden

The final book of the Millennium Trilogy

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is the final chapter of Lisbeth’s story to us.  It’s a story where Lisbeth (with help from her well-wishers) settles scores with all the culprits who turned her life upside-down and wins justice for herself. The book’s original Swedish title is Luftslottet som sprängdes which literary means ‘The Castle in the Air That Was Blown Up’ (I prefer the English title – It’s more catchy 🙂 ).

Unlike its predecessors, this book lacks surprise elements… the revelations just flow in and we quite know that in the end the bad are gonna be punished and good will triumph where Fröken Lisbeth is finally going to earn her long-waited justice… and yes, all this is bound into long 746 pages. Nevertheless, the book’s still worth reading, especially if you have read the first two as this book impressively ties-up all the loose ends and hooks you on to turn your page despite a predictable story. In any case, you can’t just possibly do without reading the final book after having been through an enjoyable and exciting whirlwind of the first two stories.

This third and final sequel picks up right where the second one left off. Lisbeth is flown into the ICU of Sahlgrenska hospital where its renowned and compassionate Dr Anders Jonasson successfully puts her out of the danger zone after performing a super-complex brain surgery that results in no side-effects other than Lisbeth forgetting the solution to the pesky Fermat’s theorem that she solved after much thought and struggle in the second novel… Made me think Swedish writers too think like Bollywood writers at times 😉

The story then builds further with a lot of drama and intrigue to spill beans about the Section and how it actually operated. This book compiles a lot more characters than the first book and has multiple people from The Section, Milton Security, Stockholm police force, Svenska Morgon-Posten, Constitutional Protection at Säpo along with Blomkvist’s sister, the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister. As opposed to the first two books, Salander does not play a key role in exposing The Section… Blomkvist and his supporting team’s role is more prominent in cracking the well-kept secrets of The Section while Salander is convalescing from her injuries. However, she does leap back into action when a Palm Tungsten T3 is smuggled for her in the hospital and she writes down her case in order to clear her name and exposing Teleborian as a paedophile.

The most interesting and page-turning part of the book is the court case proceeding and its highlight is Lisbeth’s responses to the Prosecutor’s questions. Another intriguing part in the book is Lisbeth’s encounter with her half-brother Ronald Niedermann as he remains missing in the first 3/4th part of the book. The only unnecessary section in the book is the part about a certain ‘Poison Pen’ stalking Erika Berger.

Overall the entire series of Millennium Trilogy throws light on the misuse of power especially by Authorities entrusted with responsibilities by the society, how we fear to question all that we don’t understand and injustice caused to women by considering them no more than some pretty piece of weak meat.

The third book completes Lisbeth’s story from almost all angles – winning her justice, ridding her of all bad elements like Zalachenko, Niedermann and Teleborian from her life, her relationship with Blomkvist and her having an economically secured future. It is undoubtedly a fitting end to the series.

I rate the book 3.5/5 as though I loved reading it, it’s not my best book among the three.

It’s a pity to not expect any further books from the late Stieg Larsson – a phenomenal narrator of a truly fascinating, gripping story of a super-riveting character – Lisbeth Salander.

Book review of ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’

If you play with fire, you get burnt but if you mess with Fröken Salander, you are dealing with someone worse than fire.

The second novel in the Millennium Trilogy

Stieg Larsson has written ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’ (Swedish title: Flickan som lekte med elden) with an attempt to have it as a stand alone novel so that even readers who haven’t read the first book can enjoy. Well, the readers who have picked this book after having read ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ will have to patiently breeze through the re-establishment of characters they are already acquainted with in the initial pages (personally, it wasn’t a big deal for me to get re-acquainted with the characters once again).

This book starts as a continuity from the events concluded in the first book with Blomkvist now portrayed as a famous ‘celebrity’ publisher of Millennium magazine after having successfully exposed the corrupt practices of Wennerström and Salander as a rich, aah well, super-rich punk-like, lone traveler possessing ready at hand passports of different identities specific for each travel …To add to that there’s also a vivid description of how with her newly-acquired wealth, she buys a grand house, decorates it with Ikea furniture and invests in a super-expensive coffee-maker but lives on Billy Pan Pizzas on days at a stretch (and still manages to look anorexic 🙂 – I wish the author had explained ‘How?’).

Now the plot with ‘potential’ spoilers:

The story initially revolves around the issue of sex trafficking operation in Sweden that Millennium is planning to expose with the help of its newly hired journalist Dag Svensson and his girlfriend Mia Johansson who is writing a thesis on sex trafficking for her doctorate. Parallely, the story describes a lot of events surrounding Lisbeth Salander, her newly acquired lifestyle, her reunion with Miriam Wu, Armansky & her former guardian, Holger Palmgren, and Blomkvist’s desparate attempts to re-connect with Lisbeth.

The plot twists when Dag and Mia are discovered to be murdered in their apartment by Blomkvist one night. The investigation further unfolds into discovering a murdered body of Lisbeth’s guardian, Bjurman, in his apartment by the police. Quite predictably (since a plot would be absent otherwise 🙂), the person that falls under suspicion for having committed all these three murders is Lisbeth Salander – as her finger prints are found on the gun used to kill the couple while the gun apparently belongs to Bjurman.

While the drama for tracking Salander continues by the police, Blomkvist and Armansky set up their own investigation to figure a way out for Salander and prove her innocent. In that quest, Blomkvist works out that a certain ‘Zala’ who is untraceable and most people including the sex trade punters and the exploited prostitutes dread to talk about or squirm at the mention of his name has a key role in the foul play of both sex trafficking in Sweden and all the injustice suffered by Salander. He then sets off to track down ‘Zala’ as he’s somehow sure that Salander’s searching for him too.

Meanwhile, with the turn of multiple events, what the police believe is a simple open-and-shut case with Lisbeth Salander as the suspected murderer becomes more and more complex as the investigation proceeds and the truth of Lisbeth emerges. This book reveals the dark secrets of Lisbeth’s past and explains why she is what she is today.

The book’s climax projects Lisbeth as a Superwoman who manages to attack ‘Zala’ and his tamed gorilla-sized flunky after surviving bullets in her hip, shoulder and head and being buried alive… To top it all she manages to dig herself out of a grave with a cigarette case :D. It was a little too much to take but the character and the story is written so beautifully that you wouldn’t mind believing that too.

I rate the book 4/5 … there are people I know who felt this book couldn’t match up the excitement of the first one but I disagree… this book brings along an equal amount of excitement and curiosity.

And yes, the book also kind of gives you a tutorial on different mathematical equations :D… well, to figure what this means, just read the book.

Book review of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’

Read rave reviews about the book… picked it up and became almost incapable of getting distracted from it.

‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ is written by Stieg Larsson, the late Swedish author who left behind an unpublished crime fiction trilogy when he died of a heart attack in November 2004 at a young age of 50 years.

Stieg Larsson - The man behind Lisbeth Salander

(An interview of his can be referred on

The original title of this first book in the trilogy is Män som hatar kvinnor – “Men Who Hate Women”. As hinted from it’s original title this crime fiction does cover the aspect of negative attitude towards women, especially sexual violence. Infact, it even shares some statistical figures related to injustice / atrocities on women in Sweden (though they seem a little unrelated to the novel) before every new chapter in his book. A Google search about Larsson tells us that when Larsson was in his early teens, he witnessed his friends gang-rape a girl named Lisbeth and he never forgave himself for not helping the girl. The incident made Larsson a feminist in a way and he abhorred violence and abuse against women. Perhaps, his disgust for sexual violence inspired the story of this book and building its super-hero character Lisbeth Salander or ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’.

The original title

The story of this crime-fiction revolves around two main characters – Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist or rather a unique, punk-like, flawed, unbelievably intelligent, skinny girl and a middle-aged intellectual journalist who’s quite a womaniser with morals.

The first 30 pages or so were pretty slow-paced for me, making me re-think if it was right to have picked up the book but once Lisbeth Salander entered the scene, the book transformed into a complete page-turner which I irresistibly felt like finishing in one go… it’s a different story that completing 554 pages at one go wasn’t gonna happen 🙂

The English version

This first part of the trilogy deals with unravelling the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Vanger Corporation’s CEO – Henrik Vanger’s niece and nailing her killer. Henrik Vanger proposes to hire Blomkvist more as a sleuth rather than a journalist to investigate the disappearance of  his daughter-like niece. Blomkvist agrees on taking up the task after some apprehensions as in any case he has ruined his career by losing a libel case involving damaging allegations about billionaire Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. Moreover, the old Vanger lures him to take up the case by assuring him that he would be rewarded with some solid evidence that would prove Wennerström as the scoundrel Blomkvist suspects him to be. A major acquaintance with a number of Vanger family members begins along with an an in-depth analysis of every detail that occurred around the day Henrik’s niece, Harriet, disappeared. This is where Lisbeth Salander who’s been discovered as an extremely intelligent researcher is persuaded by him to join him in the investigation. The story explodes at the point when these two lead characters team up, making it move at an incredibly exciting pace.

Then of course, there are many other interesting key characters involved like Dragan Armansky and Erika Berger who not only play a brilliant supporting role but help us understand the distinct personas of Lisbeth and Blomkvist.

All in all, it’s a great read if one likes crime fiction or merely just fiction, for all it matters.  The book also ends up tutoring us with some Swedish terms like Herr (Mr.) and Fröken (Miss) and introduces a hell lot of tongue-twisting Swedish names that effortlessly and endlessly confuse you. The book also gives you an impression that there’s a lot going on in Sweden regarding sexual violence on women. But one thing that’s left me amused is the insane amount of coffee the Swedish have… I wonder if they ever really get sleep after filling themselves with litres of caffeine 🙂

A movie on this book was already out in Sweden in 2009 and a Hollywood version starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara is being discussed to be released in 2011

So, it’s a good idea to catch on the book first before watching it’s adaptation in film… have finished reading the second in tri-series “The Girl Who Played With Fire” too and will put up a review about it soon.

For now, my rating for this book: 4/5 suggest just go, pick it up.

Book review of ‘Nine Lives – In Search of the Sacred in Modern India’

I stumbled upon a book review for this book while generally browsing for some good books to read next. I ain’t a religious person or a staunch believer of any faith but the review and summary about the book made me curious to know about lives of different people following their chosen faiths…  and that’s exactly what the book also helped with – exploring and narrating lives of different followers of different faiths.

Though India is often spoken of as a country emerging into one of the world’s super-powers in future, it still gets reflected with pictures of snake-charmers and ash-smeared sadhus and brahmins bathing in the ganges. India’s rich heritage of encompassing and supporting numerous religious faiths and traditions has somehow become its inherent characteristic that now uniquely delineates this country. I assume this particular characteristic of India might have interested the author-historian-critic-journalist, William Dalrymple, to explore it further and learn lives of different people to an extent that I’m sure, many Indians themselves don’t have good knowledge of… I was born in a Jain family and yet wasn’t aware of the concept of sallekhana, described in the story The Nun’s Tale, leave aside having deeper knowledge or awareness about the rest of the faiths.

The book doesn’t educate us about the different faiths of India but is an attempt to describe nine different lives, what has influenced and keeps influencing them, what holds them in the faith  they believe and follow and how is it for them to lead the life they have chosen to live, in an interesting and a completely non-judgmental approach. On one hand, we learn about a nun whose faith has taught her to follow complete non-violence while on the other hand, we learn about faiths of the Tantrics at Tarapith that, according to them, demand animal sacrifices… we learn how some faiths help individuals reach their Gods by the path of song and dance… and we learn how for one it is renunciation and celibacy that builts the path towards salvation while for another it’s either dedicating oneself as a devadasi or believing that practicing ritual sex will get them closer to their Gods.

In this non-fiction narrative, each of these lives have been dealt and narrated, as much as possible, from first-hand accounts – by allowing the selected nine individuals tell their own story and experiences. The author, at the same time, has remained connected to the readers by describing his journey and experiences while he meets these individuals. The writing of this travel-writer is beautiful, descriptive, detailed and engrossing to the point that it gives immense space to the reader to delve into each of the nine lives and reason, judge or think with his / her own sensibilities, as the author’s writing has remained guileless and non-judgmental through-out.

The nine lives that the book captures are of – (1.) a jain nun who describes her life with her best friend and how her loss affects her and defines her journey further; (2.) a theyyam dancer who leads a twin life of a dancer and a prison warder; (3.) the tale of Rani bai, a devadasi, who was reluctant to initially become a sex-worker but later dedicates her own daughters to become devadasis; (4.) the Bhopa of Pabusar who makes a living by singing epics of his God Pabu; (5.) a Sufi follower who has immersed herself in the devotion of Lal Shahbaz Qalander; (6.) a Buddhist monk who is ideally a believer of non-violence and love but had to fight and shed blood for the sake of his dharma; (7.) a maker of idols of different Gods who is disturbed by the fact that his centuries-old respectable family profession may soon vanish; (8.) a lady tantric who is a believer of Goddess Tara and (9.) a blind Baul and his friend, also a Baul, both who initially led different lives but attraction towards the same faith bound them together eventually.

All stories are full of passion, religious fervour and experiences, wonderfully put together in such a way that next time if we happen to come across a follower of any religious faith, we perhaps may not immediately judge or misrepresent their appearance or lifestyle or faith but try to analyse what could have led them to lead the life they lead today.

I would rate the book 4/5 and recommend it to all those who consider themselves curious enough to learn about different faiths followed in India and nine lives influenced by them.

Book review of ‘The Immortals of Meluha’

The first among Shiva's Trilogy

Shiva, the Trimurti,… the Neelkanth,… The Auspicious One – has been worshipped in our country and beyond, since ages as the primal creator of life, mainly in the form of the linga. The book, ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ – the first among the trilogy by Amish Tripathi, very cleverly and fascinatingly brings this Lord of Dance to life.

Most Indians, especially Hindus, have come across several stories of Shiva’s life that usually depict him as God, right from the beginning, while with this book Amish Tripathi brings across a concept that presents Shiva as a normal being – a short-tempered yet sensible, pot-smoking yet balanced, skilled warrior, who eventually emerges as an admired legend,… as God, by virtue of his deeds. In his words, “the Shiva Trilogy interprets the rich mythological heritage of ancient India, blending fiction with historical fact”.

The events and situations in the book may have been referred from the long known myths, yet it’s a waste of time to actually start linking this story to the mythologies told, to figure what’s right and what’s wrong. The story is fresh with a well-crafted amalgamation of almost all emotions like love, respect, trust, friendship, hatred, animosity, etc. and to top it all, an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read. What attracts you first is its intriguing book cover and then what hooks you on is an interesting and gripping narration of Shiva’s life and adventures, making the book a quick page-turner.

The book takes you into Shiva’s world and his journey of life that comprises of interesting revelations and turning points that – feature Nandi, the bull in human form, bring across the use and effect of Somras, depict an unpredictable persona of Parvati and tell us – about the invention of Trishul, how Shiva got the title ‘The Nataraja’  and how the cry “Har Har Mahadev” gets initiated.

At every point of reading the book, you end up living the adventures described and simply want to know more. I suggest this book as a must-read to all and it’s not a bad bet at Rs 295/-

Eagerly waiting for the other two books of the trilogy – ‘The Secret of the Nagas’ and ‘The Oath of the Vayuputras’.

My rating: 5/5