The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
An emotionally gripping story cooked in some serious Sufi broth. An intense coming of age love fest which zig-zags between the Byzantine and the Bostonian.
On the one hand, Ella, a tired of being a control freak woman-wife-mom in modern day Boston who doesn’t know what she wants. On the other, the bond between Rumi and Shams Tabriz in thirteenth century Turkey where the latter moves in mystic ways, because he knows exactly what he wants. All of this helpfully aided by a snail mail sutradhar – writer of letters and a novella, a certain Mr. Aziz. A novel within a novel, which Ella has to review. As she opens the pages, her life lessons begin.
As the story unfolds, both tracks are lost in a world of their making. And unmaking. They learn and grow to love, fully and discover their true capacities, due to the odds and not despite them. But before that is a long, atmospheric Sufiana gully as the tale moves back and forth and continues to speak to each other’s stories, in the way timeless synchronicities can. This is really why, this can easily be labelled chic-lit for the soul. But I wouldn’t bother with the labelling, because it also serves up a thali of Sufi thought, made delectable and very accessible. Where the novel really peaks in richness.
Rumi here, is almost like early Buddha, rich and upright but hasn’t seen suffering in the palace yet and Shams like Kabir, whose wandering days have made him see the depths of human nature and mystical possibility. They are a mirror who need to see each other and help each other see. On track two, Ella, so used to being needed at home, must begin to sync in with her needs too. But events must be so caused, that the ego can crack. A tragic, yet beautiful opening. Like the sound of life, when a shell breaks and opens.
While it is easy to recognise the lady in her modern avatar, it is Shams Tabriz who the author brings out with magnetic charm. The plot is dense with characters, but the detailing almost always zones in on the emotional climate of that person. The narrative slips from the puppet strings of the author in three or four places. But despite it, it is Rumi’s discovery of the poetic in himself which is very moving. The modern track for me, didn’t quite match the passion and the call of the classic one.
But when I finished the novel, it felt like a glass of wine which one had sipped in small sips, but still got drunk a little. And this was not a mind numbing hangover, but a handover for the spirit somehow. To reveal itself through the forty rules of love.
Forty’s really too many to remember, so only the last one stayed with me and giving it away here, I will not do.
A novel which reminds you that it is easy to say, keep in touch to other folk in our lives, and twice as not, to do it for truly a day, in our own lives. A wonderful fictional reminder of what depth is possible when true companionship is found and lost and found.
Within and without.