Open Your Heart | The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak

The Forty Rules of Love,
by Elif Shafak,
Published by Viking (2010)
Rating: *****

Introduction

This is the first audiobook I ever consumed. It was recommended to me the minute I opened up my Audible app for the first time. I saw it, was intrigued, checked out the plot, and knew I had to read it immediately. Of course, I didn’t audiobook it completely. I ended up reading more than half of it because I felt a strong desire to push forth – the narrative had me so hooked. This is also what has sparked a renewed interest in reading Rumi’s poetry, or beginning to read Rumi’s poetry.

Plot

This is a book with a plot-within-a-plot, a book-within-a-book. The narrator/protagonist, Ella Rubenstein is a housewife, who takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment becomes reading a manuscript titled Sweet Blasphemy, a novel written by Aziz Zahara. The book tells the tale of Shams-i-Tabrizi and Rumi, their respective journeys and how they find each other, and Shams’ role in transforming Rumi’s life. Ella is smitten, and takes to communicating with Zahara, finding that Rumi’s story apparently mirrors her own life, and sorrows, with Zahara being the person tasked with helping her find love, and joy again.

Nested Stories

Shafak does a beautiful job of switching between the manuscript and the real-life of Ella Rubenstein. The transitions between the two feel timely, never abrupt, and the chapters are never too long, so you never lose track of where you are in each story line. They seem to weave into each other purposefully, especially since they are meant to mirror each other – the pacing is well done, and Shafak introduces elements of conflict, or of communication and resolution in away that never seems to take your attention away from either plot. I appreciated deeply how Rubenstein’s letters to Zahara mimicked communications and the building relationship between Shams and Rumi. The conversations Shafak writes are deep and meaningful, opening up the minds of each of the characters in the book.

The Little Things

Shafak embeds the Forty Rules of Love into the book, exposing them by imagining that Shams revealed them throughout his life when the time was right for the person being spoken to, to receive them. You can see this across his interaction with common-people, with Rumi, and through Zahara’s quoting of the rules of love in his conversations with Rubenstein. I loved that each chapter began with the second arabic sound “ba”, and that each section of the book referenced an element. The story, in its entirety, with Shafak’s lyrical writing, made me more mindful and aware and appreciative of the beauty I have surrounding me, and for a while, all I felt like doing was sitting down and taking all of it in.
It opened me up to a new kind of love, and I cannot wait to read more Rumi soon.

Conclusion

Easily one of the best finds I’ve made this year. Worth reading for how well she brings Rumi and Shams-i-Tabrizi to life.

GloPoWriMo 2020: 14/30

Today’s prompt is fascinating. It offers a chance to write about what inspires me to write poetry. My own inspiration comes from two things. The first is my primary school: where poetry recitation was compulsory, earned you merit cards, and was a very fun activity. The second is my mother, who enjoys things that rhyme and trained me for all those poetry recitations by making me memorize verses. They came in handy through my Grade 10 English Literature examinations. I’ve been inspired, quite literally, by all the verse I’ve been exposed to since I was very, very young, and I’m very fortunate to be in that position. Writing this poem is therefore slightly tricky, but I hope to showcase my personal narrative as best I can.

Verse

Ms. Tandon, in Grade 3, chose the poem,
Homework, Oh Homework!, to recite at our Assembly,
I was in love, instantly,
“I hate you, you stink!” was my rebellion of the times, particularly given that
I could not draw a Fish, as expected of us for Science.

In Grade 6, Ms. Kotian introduced me to Leisure
Following it up with some Wordsworth,
In Grade 8, I refused to study Geography, and
Ms. Dasgupta and Ms. Narayan introduced me to
Pied Beauty, Pike, and A Different History.

In Grades 11 and 12, when I missed studying Literature,
My mother drew me aside,
She found a book of handwritten poems,
Filled with rhyming couplets inside.

They tickled me pink and brought a smile to my face,
A rhyme scheme of abab – my mother was a poetry ace.

In March this year I discovered Rumi,
In a way significant to my life –
Shams-i-Tabrizi, Ghalib, and he,
Mahadevi Verma, and Bahinabai Chaudhari.

All of these inspire me,
Collectively, yet
Independently,
As I sit rattling away keystrokes to
Write free verse,
Every April.