Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak

"Into the Unknown"
Have you ever started a book, which, from the first word, you didn’t want it to end? A book that you wanted to read as slowly as possible, savoring every word? A book that you knew was more than just a story, more than just black words on a white page? This is one of those.

I have to admit the recommendation from my sister-from-another-mother clued me in to the possibilities of this book, but the first words enchanted me and offered me a reflecting pool on my own life. From the beginning I knew reading this book was going to be a journey.

Many long years ago as a sophomore in college, I read a short story. Although the title and author are lost in time, the insight it gave me changed my life. All I remember about the story is that some guys are sitting around a campfire and one of them explains that The Bible could be condensed to one word: Love. That story, that one insight, stripped away my need for religious dogma and political debate and gave me a one-word rudder for my life.

While my skill at wielding this rudder through the journey of my life has been less than expert, I always know what I’m trying to do. I even announced it at the end of a workshop decades ago. When asked to state our after-workshop intention, I stood, and with my introvert-heart pounding, announced that I wanted to “BE love."

But, time and life keep rolling along, picking up sand and pebbles and boulders until it’s a muddy, frothy flow and clarity is lost. Moving to Mexico was like jumping out of the river onto the bank of a small island away from distractions and expectations.

At first it felt wrong to just be sitting on the sideline as the river rushed on without me. How could I just do nothing when there were so many problems and issues, opportunities and possibilities swimming past me? Slowly I found myself breathing deeply, wrapping my arms around my knees and turning my face to the sun, just being alive and unencumbered.

And then, the book arrived. It’s an interesting story by a Turkish writer. An ordinary woman in a tired marriage is assigned a book to review as part of her editing job. The story takes her back centuries, to the time when a highly educated and revered Islamic scholar meets an itinerant dervish, a meeting that breaks open the scholar’s heart, freeing the poet within. It is the story of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. It is a story of love, the power of love, the mystic power of relationship to break us open.

In my vertigo, in my dizziness, in my drunken haze,
whirling and dancing like a spinning wheel,
I saw myself as the source of existence,
I was there at the beginning and I was the spirit of love.
  -- Rumi

In January, 2011, I did a blog celebration of Rumi with 31 days of Rumi’s poetry as read by Coleman Barks with his incredible voice and deep connection with the spirit of Rumi. (For an index of that series click here:

Now, this book calls me back to Rumi and to my determination to “Be Love.” Here in this sheltered village on a peaceful lake, maybe I will be guided to discover what that truly means. As this journey opens up, the recent piece of art which I thought was about a young woman entering into the unknown world of adulthood takes on a new meaning. Deep within all of us there is a spirit who is always entering into the unknown, still somewhat hesitant, glancing back, wondering if the watching world will judge us, wondering if we are up to the trials ahead. Are we good enough? Strong enough? Beautiful enough? 
This book reminds me through the forty rules of love that all we truly need is to love enough.

  • An review of this book from reviewer EEE included this word, which means "wonderful." I have decided to adopt it.


  1. This post reminds why I miss our coffee dates... happy to have your energy on our property... Sending hugs to your beautiful little part of the world!

  2. I liked watching and listening to Elif Shafak present at TEDxOxford in 2010.

    1. Thanks, Hugh ... I wanted to see her TED talk. Lovely activity for this rainy afternoon.