This Turkish author has made her presence felt in the global literary scene with her ten novels over the last two decades. Among her renowned works, The Forty Rules of Love is a delightful book of love, religion and Sufism. The story balances the present world of Ella Rubinsteins, a housewife in Massachusetts who has initiated a long-distance relationship with an author called Aziz, and the historical land of Konya in Asia Minor. In the process she brings together the two great minds of the poet Rumi and the dervish Shams of Tabriz. The latter strand of the narrative is parceled as a plot-within-a-plot for it comes as a novel that Aziz has written and that Ella is writing a report on for the literary agency she has recently joined. Aziz's novel takes both Ella and readers into a spiritual journey of understanding the forty rules of love as preached by the Sufis and explained by Shams of Tabriz in this narrative. These forty rules of love are the same as that of Islam, which claims Shams, is the religion of love. Following these rules, she suggests, one can come closer to God.
At a time when the religion of Islam is being tarnished by media images of terror and violence, Shafak's novel breathes a fresh new light into the Islamic worldview and the practice of religious meditation by some of its adherents. Different chapters of the novel are narrated from the point of view of different characters, making the whole an unbiased narrative; this narrative strategy would appear to be crucial for a work concerning love, religion and spirituality. Shafak's personal interest and experience of Sufism is reflected in the richness of the work, making it noteworthy not only for her fans and but also worthwhile for all readers of compelling fiction.
Anika Saba is a lecturer in the Department of English & Humanities at BRAC University.