The Rare Joy of Positive Influences | Review of “The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafak (2010) Penguin Books

While there is much to demand our attention in these days of wired communications, there very little of that means that seems to warm one’s soul. Yet when it does happen, it is a well-crafted bit of verse that is brilliantly constructed and heart warming. Elif Shafak has written such a book with The Forty Rules of Love.  In that book, Shafak documents both the story of how the poet Rumi meets his mentor, the Shams of Tabriz and how the story of their encounter inspires a woman in the present day to change her life. And it should be noted that a tired Canadian book blogger (Me) owes a big thank you to a South African counterpart – Claire Day – for bring this book to my attention.

Forward Page 19-20

In 1244, Rumi met Shams – a wandering dervish with unconventional ways and heretical proclamations. Their encounter altered both their lives. At the same time, it marked the beginning of a solid, unique friendship that Sufis in the centuries to follow likened to the union of two oceans. By meeting this exceptional companion, Rumi was transformed from a mainstream cleric to a committed mystic, passionate poet, advocate of love, and originator of the ecstatic dance of the whirling dervishes, daring to break free of all conventional rules. In an age of deeply embedded bigotries and clashes, he stood for a universal spirituality, opening his doors to people of all backgrounds. Instead of an outer-oriented jihad – defined as “the war against infidels” and carried out by many in those days just in the present – Rumi stood up for an inner-orientated jihad where aim was to struggle against and ultimately prevail over one’s ego, nafs.

Not all people welcomed these ideas, however, just as not all people open their hearts to love. The powerful spiritual bond between Shams and Rumi became the target of rumor, slander and attack. They were misunderstood, envied, vilified and ultimately betrayed by those closest to them. Three years after they met, they were tragically separated.

But the story didn’t end there.

Shafak has mixed a great story with an understanding of feelings and emotions of today. Her words are a delight to read and easy to understand. This is a book that should be on everybody’s shelf and at the end of everybody’s lips.

Page 35

Brimming over with the tension that followed the argument with David and Jeannette, Ella was so drained she had to stop reading Sweet Blasphemy for a while. She felt as though the lid of a boiling cauldron had suddenly been lifted, emitting old conflicts as new resentments in the rising steam. Unfortunately, it was no one other than she who had lifted that lid. And she had done it by dialing Scott’s number and asking him not to marry her daughter.

Later in her life, she would deeply regret everything she’d uttered during this phone conversation. But on this day in May, she was so sure of herself and the ground beneath her feet that she could not for the life her fathom any dire consequences from her intrusion.

While there may be strong elements of mysticism and spirituality here, there is also the documentation of pain and angst that many people feel today. Shafak is not only a brilliant storyteller but also a philosopher in her own right. In reading this book a bit of the soul heals and the mind questions the path it has taken.

Page 38-39

The first person to misjudge my visions was my father. I must have been ten years old when I started seeing my guardian angel on a daily basis and was naïve enough to think that everyone else did as well. One day, while my father was teaching me how to build a cedar chest so that I could become a carpenter like him, I told him about my guardian angel.

“You have a wild imagination, son.” my father said dryly. “And you better keep it to yourself. We don’t want to upset the villagers again.”

A few days before, the neighbours had complained about me to my parents, accusing me of acting strange and scaring their kids

“I don’t understand your ways, my son. Why can’t you accept that you are no more remarkable than your parents?” my father asked. “Every child takes after his father and mother. So have you.”

That was when I realized that although I loved my parents and craved their love, they were strangers to me.

“Father, I am from a different egg than you other children. Think of me as a duckling raised by hens. I am not a domestic bird destined to spend his life in a chicken coop. The water that scares you rejuvenates me. For unlike you I can swim, and swim I shall. The ocean is my homeland. If you are with me, come to the ocean. If not, stop interfering with me and go back to the chicken coop.”

My father’s eyes grew large, then small and distant. ” If this is the way you talk to your father now,” he said gravely, “I wonder how you will address you enemies when you grow up.”

In a world where so much demands attention and garnishes little meaning, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak is a book that enriches the soul. Thanks to her and to Claire Day for bringing it forward to my attention.

Link to Elif Shafak’s  English website 

Link to Penguin Canada’s page for The Forty Rules of Love

South African blogger Claire Day’s wordpress page for “The Forty Rules of Love”


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