This novel is the quest infused with mystic love which is both enthralling and enlightening. The novel speaks volumes about love, spirituality, religion and how to transform our lives and fill it with love. The Forty Rules of Love is a literary fiction enriched at the same time both with the contemporary fiction [the lives of Ella Rubenstein, her husband David, their three children and Aziz Zahara] and the historical fiction [Mawlana Rumi and Shams of Tabriz as protagonists]. It’s a novel within a novel. Throughout the novel Shafak has used a very lucid language. What really makes this novel more interesting is that every single chapter starts with the letter “B” that has a meaning of its own for the Sufis taking Ella and us into an exotic world where faith and love are heartbreakingly explored.
Ella Rubenstein is a forty year housewife with three children, a cheating husband and with endless domestic responsibilities. She lives a monotonous unhappy life but of which she is complacent. The plot unfolds when she gets a job for a literary agency based in Boston and has to prepare an extensive report on a novel titled ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ written by an unknown European author A. Z. Zahara. It is a historical, mystical novel on the remarkable bond between Jalal ad-Din Rumi, and Shams of Tabriz, unconventional dervish full of scandals and surprises.
Ella gets fascinated by the character of Shams of Tabriz, his search for Rumi and the dervish’s role in transforming a famous mainstream cleric to a committed mystic, passionate poet, an advocate of love and together their timeless message of love for all cultures and ages. She is mesmerized by the Forty rules of love which Shams from time to time elaborates to the different people he meets. By virtue of his having visions about future, Shams foresees his own death. He turns restless and wanders in search of a soul who is at par with him and someone as soulful as he is, to share the endless wisdom God has bestowed upon him. He travels all the way to Konya, and Baghdad to find Rumi, a scholar cum cleric with unsettled soul. On the way of imparting knowledge to Rumi, Shams faces a lot of challenge, and hatred from the society and particularly from Rumi’s family. Rumi also undergoes trials and tribulations on the way of becoming the greatest of sought-after Sufi and a poet of all times. Shams sacrifices his life for the love of Rumi, and gets killed by those who were not happy with this mystical union.
Ella decides to look for her lessons from Shams of Tabriz’s Forty Rules of Love and tries to apply them to his own world. She feels herself completely changed as she reads on. She starts conversations with the author of the novel Aziz Zahara and feels that the author has come to change her life the way Shams came to change the life of Rumi. She realizes that Rumi’s story mirrors her own and that Aziz Zahara like Shams has come to set her free of all the societal bondages. She finds her lost love and hope in Aziz Zahara. She leaves everything behind to meet him at Boston. To her amazement she finds him equally in love with her and she decides to live with him till his last breath.
As a staunch feminist and a social activist, c not only takes us to the journey about the lives of Shams of Tabriz and Mawlana Rumi but to the 13th century society and the various problems people faced. Elif Shafak guides us to the various perspectives of the people around like Hasan the Beggar, Suleiman the drunk, the zealot, and Baybers the Warrior. Her female characters are the most strong and determined of all like Desert Rose the Harlot, Kimya and Kerra. The extraordinary tale of Desert Rose, a broken, brutalized prostitute but a profound courageous woman who retains her humanity despite a world bent on crushing her at every turn. Elif Shafak takes a piercing, unflinching look at the trauma women’s minds and bodies are subjected to in a social system determined by patriarchal codes. Surely we can say that in the lines of Zarbakht Bilal “The Forty Rules of Love is a mesmerizing blend of love,religion and spirituality”
Musaib Rasool is Masters in Political Science from University of Kashmir.