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Book Review: The Forty Rules Of Love

Title: The Forty Rules Of Love
Author: Elif Shafak
Publisher: Penguin, Latest Edition edition (2015)
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Price: Rs. 399 on Amazon
Pages: 368

I had heard glowing reviews of this book from many book bloggers I trust and yet I bought this book mainly for its gorgeous cover! The cover is so magical and as much as they ask us not to judge a book by its cover, I had crazy expectations from this one.

This book has two stories running in parallel. First, the one of Ella Rubenstein and her mundane life with her husband and kids. Second, the story of love and companionship between the great ancient Sufi mystic, Rumi, and his spiritual master, Shams of Tabriz. 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 a novel about Rumi, who was transformed by Shams, the whirling dervish into a passionate poet and advocate of love. The book is called 'Sweet Blasphemy' and is written by a certain Aziz Zahara. Ella is aware of her husband's infidelities and yet keeps mum, only because she has no other place to go. As she begins reading the story of Rumi and Shams, its learnings get to her and she writes an email to the author of the book asking a few questions.

Soon, their correspondence becomes regular and Ella finds herself falling deep in love with Aziz who she believes is the Shams of her life come alive from his book. Aziz in turn, has other plans. As much as he wants to be Ella's Shams, he is battling a predicament of his own. Will Ella jump into this uncertainty? Will she leave her family behind for her one chance at love?

The second story in the book is what the protagonist in the first reads. This is the story of Rumi and Shams and many other people. This story is narrated from multiple point of views focusing vastly on Sufism. And that, my friend, forms the beauty of this book. Although I have always been fascinated by Sufism, I never thought much about it. This book took me deep into it. The forty rules of love are narrated by Shams in the most beautiful way possible and you cannot help but be carried away by the magic of this book. This book traces the life of the Sufi mystic, Rumi, whose quotes most of us share on a daily basis. The book shows us the transformation of Rumi, from the successful but unhappy cleric to a committed mystic, passionate poet and an advocate of love. The relationship between Rumi and Shams, though love, is so sacred and platonic. The zealot's story is hard-hitting as is the tale of Rumi's wife and children. Shams is loathed by almost everyone for his bold approach and take on the right, but is adored by Rumi. Only Rumi knows the effect that Shams has on him. Rumi's life now lay in Shams hands.

As Ella reads this story, she begins to translate it into her life. She sees her life in Rumi's and realizes that Aziz has come to set her free and he is her Shams that she's been looking for all her life. When Aziz tells her that he is visiting her city, Ella leaves to go meet him. She is consumed by everything Aziz is and turns into someone else altogether much to the chagrin of her husband and kids. I probably would not agree with what Ella did, especially when she has been in an unhappy marriage for most of her life. Did she have to fall in love with someone else to escape her life? She knew about her husband's affairs and yet the idea of leaving him came in only when she fell in love with Aziz. This felt a bit like tit for tat.

Apart from this, I shall not flaw this book. I could see a lot of myself in Shams, not that I am a great teacher or a philosopher, but I am someone who believes in the goodness of people and believes in doing right. No matter what others think of me. The tale of Rumi and Shams helps paint a picture in your mind and it works its magic in many ways. The book has way too many brilliant quotes and the forty rules of love is what all of us humans should live by. It teaches us love in its purest form, the unity in all religions and the good that is present in every one of us. Some might find this book a tad preachy, but it definitely does practice what it preaches.

Some quotes from the book:

“Where there is love, there is bound to be heartache.”

“Do not go with the flow. Be the flow.”

“What we need is sincere self-examination. Not being on the watch for the fault of others.”

“No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within.”

“Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.”

“A life without love is of no account. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire. The universe turns differently when fire loves water.”

“The way to a man’s heart can sometimes take a woman far away from herself, my dear.”

“Neither a drop of kindness nor a speck of evil will remain unreciprocated.”

“If you want to strengthen your faith, you will need to soften inside. For your faith to be rock solid, your heart needs to be as soft as a feather."

Verdict: This book is like a treasure trove for anyone enamored by Sufism. If not, this book is for all those who believe in love and life. Read it, you will not be disappointed.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.


  1. Wow.. I am so glad you loved it. I loved it too. I was a bit worried that I am getting too mushy. But, it is indeed a lovely book and every word is beautiful.

  2. I am keep this one on my radar. Honestly, I skipped reading the 2 stories you narrated here, because then I become skeptical so I jumped to the quotes. Love! I love everything about love.

    1. Do read this one ASAP, I'm sure you'll love it.

  3. Interesting title. Small wonder, a reader does have expectations after such a promising title & reviews :)
    Book looks great, Soumya.
    Nice quotes.

  4. Your review does complete justice to the book.
    I read it, after a few false starts. As i found it extremely boring initially. It is now up there, in my favorite books list.

    1. Strangely, I found it decently paced and I lapped it up!

      It sure is one of my favorites too now :)

  5. You know what, I’ve had this book sitting pretty on my bookshelf since years. I keep putting off the reading of it because I want to find the perfect time when I can immerse myself fully into the book. But I don’t think such a time will ever come. Once I’m finished with Wilbur Smith’s Ancient Egypt series, I think I will finally pick up this book!

    1. Do read this, Shinjini, it will not disappoint.

  6. As I had mentioned earlier, this was one book that took me a lot of time to read and soak in every bit of it. I loved it surely, and there were lines that moved me, made me sit up.... A book worth a second read for me.

    1. The beauty of the words in this one was quite something. Sufism is quite marvelous :)

  7. Sounds like an interesting book, Soumya. I noticed many people mentioning it on social media. With love always comes pain in some form or other. Let me read the book! Then we'll discuss it :-)

    1. Do read it, Vidya. Let me know if you want me to send it to you :)

  8. Wow a 4.5 stars? I tried reading the book and couldn't get past the first ten pages. There. I said it. But I guess, I should read with a fresh mind again. Thanks for the great review, Soumya.

    1. Give it a fresh start, trust me it will be worth it.

  9. I spent ages reading this book and was lost in the beauty of the quotes by Shamz; every rule was so hard hitting but in a heart warming way.
    I am so so glad you liked this book Somz!!


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