Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Forty Rules of Love

The Forty Rules of Love
Author: Elif Shafak
Penguin, 2010 (reprint)
368 pages

When we were in Istanbul a few months ago, we came across a wonderful bookshop on Divan Yolu that specializes in books about Turkey. I could have spent a fortune in there. Actually, I did spend a small fortune in there -- heheh. One of the books the friendly, knowledgeable bookseller recommended was Elif Shafak's The Forty Rules of Love. She said it was one of her favorite books ever, and that everyone she'd recommended it to loved it.

I'm now officially one of those people.

The Forty Rules of Love is like a Turkish carpet, beautifully weaving together multiple storylines. One of them belongs to Ella, a wife, mother, and manuscript reader living in modern-day Northampton, Massachusetts. Ella's about to turn forty, and she's suddenly realized that she no longer believes in love. She fell out of love with her husband years ago, and she's not so keen on her college-age daughter's plans to get married. Then she begins reading a manuscript by a mysterious foreigner. The author is a Sufi, and through his writing (titled Sweet Blasphemy), we're taken back in time to the thirteenth century and into the lives of Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish, and Rumi, the religious teacher who will eventually become a great poet. Their relationship is the main story, but we get to meet other memorable folks as well -- and learn the forty rules of love, of course. Love is what this story is all about.

The Forty Rules of Love is one of the most beautiful and brilliant books I've ever read, and I think it'll have a lasting impact on me much like other great works of 'spiritual' fiction (Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist comes to mind). I just finished reading it tonight, and I feel like I'm waking up from a dream way too soon. I'd like nothing more than to curl up in a blanket and go back to sleep, to be transported back in time to the city of Konya. (I don't normally read books more than once, but might make an exception for this one.)

[I regret that I didn't get to visit Konya on my recent trip, but am definitely putting it on my list for next time. Fortunately, I was able to see the whirling dervishes in Istanbul. It was great to have that context while reading this amazing book. But I don't think it's a requirement to enjoying it and getting something out of it.]

If you enjoy reading books that make you think philosophically, you'll enjoy The Forty Rules of Love. If you like historical fiction, you must read it (and make yourself get past the opening part, which takes place in the present time. Once you read a few pages of the thirteenth century, you'll be hooked.) There are also elements of mystery in The Forty Rules of Love. And of course . . .  romance.

It's now one of my favorite books ever. Thank you, nice bookseller lady: You were absolutely right!