TITLE: THE FORTY RULES OF LOVE
AUTHOR: ELIF SHAFAK
REVIEWER: VERA OMWOCHA
When Ella, a forty-year old bored housewife in England signs up to work for a book agency, her first assignment is to read: Sweet Blasphemy, a manuscript by Aziz Sahara. Having been out of employment for long, amid misgivings and encouragement from her unfaithful husband, she takes the job. For the first time in many years, she takes time off her motherly duties to read a script that brings with it a wave of life changing consequences.
Sweet Blasphemy, set in 13th century, is about a wandering dervish, Shams of Tabriz. As he roams the world, looking for God, he lands in Baghdad where he learns of the great Islamic scholar in Konya, Rumi. Trusting his visions (God), Shams sets out to Konya, into Rumi’s life. The two are held by a love so great that the townspeople turn against them; against Shams for ‘stealing’ their Rumi. Shams’ love and inspiration completely transform Rumi into the great poet he later became.
The townspeople hate Shams so much that they hate his mirror, their once revered Rumi. Thanks to Shams, Rumi loses everything and gains everything. When they (the townspeople) kill Shams, they hope their lives would return to normal, but does it?
Ella gets so drawn to the novel that she gets into a clandestine exchange of mails with the author, Aziz. She would see Shams of Tabriz in Aziz. Soon after, she would realize that she is in love with the mysterious author and when he sets foot in England, she abandons everything; her husband of twenty years, her three children and her new job for the call of love is loud.
I particularly loved how the author empowers different voices; it makes it easy to understand different narratives from different perspectives. What’s more, interweaving characters and cultures centuries apart effortlessly makes the novel so rich in narration in different forms; first and third person narration (on the part of Ella), letters, emails etc.
I still can’t get over Shams. I felt him breathe the forty rules into my system. He completely shook up my time-tested beliefs, and made me realize that God is within me; it is what is in the heart. The Christian in me could not help weighing Jesus and the Pharisees’ experiences against Shams’ encounters with the townsfolk.
I did not, however, quite feel Ella’s life before Sweet Blasphemy. It seemed too ‘easy’ that her husband was a cheat too so her guilt would be lesser or her actions justified. The author makes bare the fact that Sweet Blasphemy would change her life from the onset; the how is, however, the intriguing part. She didn’t strike me as I thought she would have but I did love her strength to leave everything in the quest for love.
It is interesting to note that a female author who doubles up as a feminist didn’t necessarily give her female characters a happily ever after ending.
This is a story about LOVE, LOVE and LOVE; among other themes; Sufism, quest for God, etc. Deeply enthralling, this book transports you into a completely different world. It opened my mind to love, friendship, to God.
As one of the rules goes;
The whole universe is contained within a single human being-you. Everything that you see around, including the things you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attracts from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you get to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness both your dark and bright sides, you will arrive at a supreme form of consciousness. When a person knows himself or herself, he or she knows God.
I got to throw in this one too;
Why worry so much about the aftermath, an imaginary future, when this very moment is the only time we can truly and fully experience both the presence of God and the absence of God in our lives? Motivated by neither the punishment in hell nor the desire to be rewarded in heaven, Sufi’s love God simply because they love Him, pure and easy, untainted and non-negotiable.
You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for Him: in the heart of a true lover.”
You can purify your body through fasting and abstinence, but only love will purify your heart.
I might just end up quoting the whole book. Get a copy and maybe, like Ella and myself, it can change your life too.
Available at Text Book Centre or Amazon