The Forty Rules of Love is a best seller book. The author, Eli Shafak is an award-winning female novelist in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than forty languages. She lives in London and Istanbul with her family. Often the said novel was read by more than one person, by the mother, the daughters, the great-aunt, a distant cousin. The story reached different audiences. In a sense, The Forty Rules of Love is about the transformative power of reading.
In the novel “The Forty Rules of Love” the protagonist, Ella Rubinstein undergoes her journey of self-discovery, examining life and love through Sufi mysticism. Ella Rubinstein has a husband, three teenage children and a pleasant home. Everything that should make her confident and fulfilled. Yet there is an emptiness at the heart of Ella’s life – an emptiness once filled by love. So when Ella reads a book about the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz and his forty rules of life and love, her world is turned upside down. She embarks on a journey to meet the mysterious author of this work. It is a quest infused with Sufi mysticism and verse, taking Ella and us into an exotic world where faith and love are heartbreakingly explored. The Forty Rules of Love tells two parallel stories that mirror each other across two very different cultures and seven intervening centuries. The author of the manuscript is an unknown novelist, Aziz Zahara, who lives in Turkey. Ella soon finds herself captivated both by the novel and the man who wrote it, with whom she begins an email flirtation. As she reads, she begins to question the many ways she has settled for a conventional life devoid of passion and real love. At the center of the novel that Ella is reading is the remarkable, wandering, whirling dervish Shams of Tabriz, a mystic provocateur who challenges conventional wisdom and social and religious prejudice wherever he encounters it. He is searching for the spiritual companion he is destined to teach. His soul’s purpose is to transform his student, Rumi—a beloved but rather complacent, un-mystical preacher—into one of the world’s great poets, the “voice of love.” Rumi is a willing student, but his family and community resent Shams deeply for upsetting their settled way of life. Rumi is admired, even revered in his community and Shams must lead him beyond the comforts of his respectable way of life, beyond the shallow satisfactions of the ego.
There is this saying that love happens to us while we’re living. But, the truth is life happens to us while we’re loving. But, we’re just so preoccupied with the nitty-gritties of everyday life that we forget to choose love, every single day. We forget that love, in fact, is the truest and purest essence of the life and time we spend in this world. We leave nothing behind, except the love we left behind as memory. And that’s exactly what the mystic, Shams of Tabriz taught his disciple Rumi before he came to known as the poet of love. In his bid to live a religion of love, Tabrizi swore by the forty rules of love and we should, too. So, choose love and life will follow.
In essence, both Rumi and Ella, through their relationships with Shams and Aziz, are forced to question and then abandon the apparent safety and security of their lives for the uncertainty, ecstasy, and heartbreak of love. Neither Shams nor Aziz can offer anything like a promise of lasting happiness. What they can offer is a taste of mystical union, divine love, the deep harmony that arises when the false self—constructed to meet society’s demands for respectability—is shed and the true self emerges.
Along the way, Shams imparts the forty rules of love, essential Sufi wisdom that Shams both preaches and embodies. He repeatedly defies social and religious conventions, putting himself in danger and drawing down the scorn and wrath of the self-righteous, literal-minded moralists who surround him. He inspires Rumi to become the poet he was meant to be, one of the world’s most passionate and profound voices of wisdom. Similarly, Aziz—and his story of Rumi and Shams—inspires Ella to step out of a marriage that has become emotionally and spiritually stifling for her.
It is not an easy story that Elif Shafak tells, nor an entirely happy one. There are costs, she seems to say, to living an authentic life. But, as the novel shows, the costs of not living one are far greater.
Read this wonderful book to know the following:
- In what ways does Ella’s relationship with Aziz mirror Rumi’s relationship with Shams?
- How does love shake up their worlds and push them out of their comfort zones?
- What does the novel suggest about the challenges women faced—particularly in terms of relationships and spiritual aspirations—in medieval Islamic societies?
- In what ways does Ella change over the course of the novel?
- In what ways does Rumi change?
- In what ways do social conventions and religious stricture inhibit the lives of Kerra, Kimya, and Desert Rose the Harlot?
- What does the novel as whole say about love?
- Does the novel espouse a consistent philosophy of the nature, purpose, and value of love?
- Which of the forty rules speak to you most directly?
Go and buy your own copy of this great book. Discover what is true life and real love. The book is available easily on many online purchasing sites.