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Title: The Forty Rules of Love

Author: Elif Shafak

Publisher: Penguin/ Viking

Year: 2010

Pages: 350

ISBN: 978-0-241-97293-9

Genre: Fiction

Reviewed by: Dr. Sonika Sethi

Elif Shafak’s novel The Forty Rules of Love bathes in the idea of love for humanity in a world devoid of spiritualism and faith. The novel not only juxtaposes two different generations but also blends in two centuries to bring home the fact that the world needs only one solution to its problems— Love. The problems may be myriad— cosmic, national, regional, personal or individual, yet the answer is the same. Only love can save the doomed humanity from dying an untimely and unnatural death caused by religious bigotries and the havoc wreaked on one man by another due to intolerance of beliefs and ideas. Multilayered and multidimensional, the novel beautifully and intelligently intersperses the lives of four people— two from the thirteenth century Turkey and two from the 21st-century cosmopolitan world. Ella Rubinstein, a bored housewife and a mother of three teenage children with immense talent which she brings forth in her mundane life through cooking extravagant meals for the family, painfully realizes through letters to and from a stranger, Aziz Z. Zahara, that she had been living a life devoid of love. Her husband has been cheating on her, her children found her too intruding and she didn’t have a career of her own. She joins a literary agency as a part-time reader to while away her spare time and the first assignment that she lands up with, is, to read the manuscript of a novel titled “Sweet Blasphemy” by some new writer A.Z. Zahara. Ella is supposed to go through the manuscript and provide an extensive report to the agency. It is while reading the manuscript of “Sweet Blasphemy” that Ella encounters her own self. The novel takes her back to thirteenth century Turkey and relates to her the forty rules of love presented by thirteenth century mystic Sufi saint, Shams of Tabriz to his beloved friend Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the famous Sufi poet. The forty rules of love open up a new and enchanting world for Ella as it did to Rumi about eight centuries ago— a world where there is only one religion— love for human beings, where God is a beloved and not something monstrous to be afraid of, where all men and women are equal before God, where no one tells the other how to pray to God, what life to lead, what is virtue and what is vice. Freedom from all orthodoxy and religious fanaticism, is, what is called Spirituality. How does a simple novel change Ella’s entire life and her idea of love, is what The Forty Rules of Love is all about. Love that restrains or constraints, is not love. Love is liberating. Love is Spirituality and Spirituality cannot be attained without the love of mankind— is the theme of the novel. The language is amazingly prosaic poetry with an unrestrained flow of thoughts. Elif Shafak is a master storyteller and her novel is a story with layers upon layers of narratives interwoven into its fabric. Every character in the novel is a narrator. Though dates and years have been mentioned yet the novel does not follow a strict chronological sequence shuttling all the while from the ancient to the contemporary. The novel is a must read for all the lovers of Elif Shafak and otherwise too.