Book review: Saints and sinners

Delve into The Forty Rules of Love and a natural flow of real emotion will take over.


Bisma Tirmizi July 03, 2011

How can I live fearlessly, love passionately, be content, and speak honestly? Delve into The Forty Rules of Love and a natural flow of real emotion will take over. You will find yourself free from struggle, ready to escape from an imprisoned mind, ready to fall in love with life and ready to embrace the pleasure that only comes with conscious freedom.

Elif Shafak spins a tale that explores the past and present, and East and West with synchronised exactness. Forty-year-old dissatisfied Jewish-American housewife Ella Rubenstein lands a job as a Reader to a literary agent and is asked to read a manuscript titled Sweet Blasphemy written by Aziz Zahara — a modern day Muslim Sufi.  Zahara’s novel is the tale of Shams Tabrizi’s search for Rumi. It talks about the integral role that the passionate wandering dervish Shams played in the conversion of the accomplished but unfulfilled cleric Rumi.

The two great Islamic scholars developed a spiritual and intellectual relationship in 13th century Konya that forever transformed Rumi’s path. Under Shams’ unconventional guidance, Rumi became a philosopher of Sufism and mysticism, and a poet of universal love. Ella sees her story replicated in Rumi’s struggle and comes to believe that Zahara — like Shams — has been sent by the Divine to guide her to her full potential, paving a path to her emotional freedom.

This story of two spiritual relationships is a powerful subject to ponder on, especially in the current climate when the world is ablaze with secular, religious and cultural differences. I was amazed to read a book so entrenched with realism, hope, forgiveness and freedom. The vibrant characters add a deep conviction to the novel. The power of the novel may just be the simplicity with which it is written, each of the Forty Rules is a lesson, a philosophic principle that has the power to engage its reader in self-analysis.

Advice like “Through an illness, accident, loss, or fright, one way or another, we all are faced with incidents that teach us how to become less selfish and judgmental, and more compassionate and generous. Yet some of us learn the lesson and manage to become milder, while some others end up becoming even harsher than before. The only way to get closer to truth is to expand your heart so that it will encompass all humanity and still have room for more Love,” is a simple rule giving us great insight into life. Each episode in The Forty Rules of Love leaves us with wisdom that has more than just a deep personal impact. We are invariably drawn to think about life, society and religion, and how rigid rules and hateful rhetoric have marred our vision of peace.  As Easterners we are openly uncomfortable with intellectual connectivity and spiritual and romantic relationships, therefore it is reinvigorating to stumble on literature that forces one to reflect on human value, differences in religion and social stature, and love all equally and openly.

The Forty Rules of Love is a must read, it is a contemporary classic sure to win the hearts and minds of moderates looking for intellectual stimulation.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 3rd, 2011.

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