I picked this up during the Booktubeathon but my main reason for reading it is that it is one of the books I need to read for university before October.
In this lyrical, exuberant follow-up to her 2007 novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, acclaimed Turkish author Elif Shafak unfolds two tantalizing parallel narratives—one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz—that together incarnate the poet’s timeless message of love.
Ella Rubenstein is forty years old and unhappily married when she takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment is to read and report on Sweet Blasphemy, a novel written by a man named Aziz Zahara. Ella is mesmerized by his tale of Shams’s search for Rumi and the dervish’s role in transforming the successful but unhappy cleric into a committed mystic, passionate poet, and advocate of love. She is also taken with Shams’s lessons, or rules, that offer insight into an ancient philosophy based on the unity of all people and religions, and the presence of love in each and every one of us. As she reads on, she realizes that Rumi’s story mirrors her own and that Zahara—like Shams—has come to set her free.
I went into this novel not knowing what to expect but there is something magical about the way Elif Shafak writes characters, times and ideas.
Starting with the writing, each of the different perspectives, which switch in each short chapter, were written in a slightly different style making the transitions between characters easily distinguishable from each other and giving each character a unique personality. Some of the chapters were quite hard-hitting, especially those from the perspective of Baybars, Kimya and Desert Rose, but these were contrasted with the lighter and more tranquil perspectives of Rumi and Shams. Ella’s chapters created a stark contrast between her story in 2008 and the story of all of the characters in the 1200s, whilst also mirroring and influencing the plot of both sides in some ways. The fact that Ella is reading the same story as the reader of The Forty Rules of Love makes you connect even more to the characters. The relationships that unfold happen in a very natural way and I appreciated the skill that went into the development of each one.
I really enjoyed the way that some of the chapters gave hints as to what was going to happen and, in many ways, the novel begins with the ending meaning that although there are few surprises, the way things unfold is sometimes entirely unexpected.
Some of the things that I loved about this book are the way it questioned a woman’s role in society, in both time periods, exploring the idea of identifying as a wife, a mother, a prostitute, a lover. The whole novel was extremely thought provoking and although I myself am not a religious person, the way that this book presented different aspects and views of religion did not isolate me from the ideas discussed. At points it was incredibly dense with philosophical and spiritual ideas but it never dragged and was immensely thought-provoking to read. Usually, at least for me, when a book is mostly character based, it can get quite slow, but even writing notes as I was going, this book was quick to get through and kept me wanting more from beginning to end.
I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to attending the university lectures and discussing this brilliant novels with others. There are many questions that I will continue to ponder and will hopefully figure out with time and future rereading, such as why does every chapter start with the letter ‘B’? as well as more philosophical ideas.
I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone who likes to be exposed to new cultures and ideas and I am looking forward to reading more by this amazing author.