The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
After reading “The forty rules of love” I left with ambiguous feelings. There is a form of attraction and interest in the subject (Sufism and the spiritual encounter and companionship between the great Muslim poet and mystic, Rumi and the wandering Persian Sufi Dervish, Shams of Tabriz). But there is also disappointment. I found not only populist the approach with which Elif Shafak introduced the reader in Shams’ “forty rules of love” theosophy, but here and there quite cheap and even vulgar. I disliked, for instance, the way in which Ella imagines Shams - a “macho” who rides a shiny red bike, or how Kimya arose exactly when the Dervish explained her the Koran.
The book started however very promising: with the idea that a modern, wealthy and bored housewife, in the beginning of her forties, awakes due to a manuscript that introduces her to Sufism. There is also a promising pedantry, since Shafak looks to pay attention to details. The number 40 is consistently explained, and each chapter starts with the letter “b” (coming from “bismilahirahmanirahim” word, which should contain the secret of Koran). But very soon, the story looses in coherence. The narrative is created by first person characters’ points of view, and when Shafak misses one, she has no restraint in creating a quick and disposable new character (like Husam The Student). Everything ends in a glossy, soapy story, a kind of “serious” chick lit.
At a certain moment I thought that Elif Shafak was too ambitious with this subject. But then I found out that she actually holds a Master degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in political science and she is pretty close with Sufism. Therefore, I presume, she has the “tools” of tackling any subject (and especially one about the forty rules of love) in a more deepen and rigorous way. Thus, I am intrigued and I cannot grasp why Shafak chose to write about “spiritual encounters” in such a consumerist way. Intrigued enough to also read her previous and acclaimed book, The Bastard of Istanbul (btw, is something glossy with her titles as well, isn’t it?).
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