Elif Shafak’s “The forty rules of love”, is an engaging novel that will be much liked by people who love reading books set against the backdrop of 13th century Middle Eastern history. I do think she could have gone with a better name for this charming piece of factual fiction. For I know some people who will not even consider a book with a name as clichéd as this.
Unfortunately, I feel that the word “love” is stained by the acts of our generation. It is marked with impressions made by umpteen romantic novels, chick flick movies and other advertising gimmicks. We forget that love is not an emotion to be glorified, but an ability to become skilled at. Some moons ago I got stuck with this notion in my head that love is an ability, and I have not found another befitting definition as of yet.
Take for example the movie – Crazy Stupid Love. I myself turned the movie down thinking oh it is going to be another stupid chick flick wrapped around the notions of love that don’t exist in reality. Just “Crazy Stupid”, might have made me consider the movie, but the addition of the four letter word at the end took it all away. In fact I wonder if for some of us love has become the “other” four letter word.
I used to be an ardent Nicholas Sparks fan for my adolescent years. But as I grew up I started detesting the idea of romantic novels. Simply because I was experiencing love myself and it was nowhere close to be as glorifying as it was depicted in these novels. The idea of “being one”, did not resonate well with the agony of long distance relationship and the friction of two strong I’s that needed to be pacified while growing in a relationship.
Nevertheless, I have always been fascinated by poets. Oscar Wilde, Kabeer, Rumi, and for that matter Gulzar. What fascinates me is their ability to take a moment and freeze it in a medium so flexible and easy to comprehend, such that no matter where you are, and what language you read it in, you live the moment in its true essence. Just because I cannot read Persian, it does not mean that Rumi’s words mean less to me in their English translations. It is like photography in many respects. Thus my interest in The Forty Rules of Love.
First there is a book within this book. That is a difficult synchronization to orchestrate, but Elif does a stupendous job at it. She sets forth a sort of a trance in which the reader flips back and forth from 13th century Turkey to 21st century Massachusetts. I don’t want to give away any details of the book in this review. It is not a love story, though it tries to be one at times. It is not a religious text, though the forty rules can be used as a good moral reference from time to time. It is simply a beautiful orchestration of two stories that overlap in theme and essence.
This book reminds you that in life, you sometimes become stale and grounded, and there comes a ‘Shams of Tabriz’, or a friend, or a companion, who acts like a catalyst between you and your destiny. The Shams is not there to stay. In fact you will yourself eliminate the Shams from your life, once you meet your destiny. The Shams is just an enabler, who acts like a mirror for you. It helps you complete yourself because it shows you what you lack. It does not tell you how to act, or guide you on the way; it simply makes you “aware” of what you are missing. And that awareness stirs the stale state and lifts you from being alive to start living. We all have such Shams in our lives. Sometimes you find one, and sometimes they find you.
If it was not for Shams of Tabriz, then we would have simply remembered Rumi as the scholar. Rumi’s poetic self was brought to light by him – an enabler of change and awareness.
Read this book if you want to reconnect with the older, more pure notion of love. I will be happy to lend.