Laural Merlington’s talent for vocal transformation makes The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by best-selling Turkish novelist Elif Shafak a spellbinding experience. Merlington deftly and clearly moves between American characters living in Northampton, MA, in 2008 and 13th-century townspeople of Konya, Turkey, giving all depth, emotion, and personality.
The Forty Rules of Love jumps back and forth between the two time periods as Ella, a 40-year-old American housewife and mother of three, begins to wade back into the work force by taking a job reading manuscript submissions for a literary agency. Her first assignment, a story of the relationship between the mysterious 13th-century Sufi, Shams of Tabriz, and the Islamic scholar, Jalal al-Din Rumi (now world renown as the Sufi poet Rumi), becomes the catalyst for changes well beyond Ella’s desire to work outside the home. Ella finds herself drawn to the manuscript’s author, Aziz Zahara, a peripatetic Scottish photographer and Sufi, seeking out the author through email. As the online friendship between Ella and Aziz escalates, the manuscript Aziz has written begins to shake Ella loose from the conventional moorings that she has, for decades, assured herself complete her life.
While Merlington easily gives voice to Ella’s snarky teen-aged children and distant husband, her talents shine as she moves to the book’s characters from 13th-century Turkey. The listening experience borders on magical as Jackal Head, a mercenary assassin, Desert Rose, a young woman forced into prostitution, and Suleiman, the village drunk, share their stories. However, it is the depiction of Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish searching the land for his soul’s companion, and Rumi, the scholar blindsided by this itinerant spiritual seeker, that shapes the rich world of The Forty Rules of Love. There is bewilderment in the voice of Jalal al-Din Rumi as he attempts to reconcile his connection to the dervish who has entered the scholar’s well-ordered world. It can be heard in the voice of Shams that he knowingly traverses a deadly path as he expresses his Sufi faith in the ultimate power of love while testing the intransigence and jealousies of Islamist zealots and the scholar’s followers.
The Forty Rules of Love contains not only a book-within-a-book but an introduction to Sufism as well. However, it is the vibrant, talented performance of Laural Merlington that allows the story’s message of love to resonate across centuries. Carole Chouinard
In this follow-up to her acclaimed 2007 novel The Bastard of Istanbul, Turkish author Elif Shafak unfolds two tantalizing parallel narratives---one contemporary and the other set in the 13th century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz---that together incarnate the poet's timeless message of love.
Ella Rubenstein is 40 years old and unhappily married when she takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment is to read and report on Sweet Blasphemy, a novel written by a man named Aziz Zahara. Ella is mesmerized by his tale of Shams' search for Rumi and the dervish's role in transforming the successful but unhappy cleric into a committed mystic, passionate poet, and advocate of love. She is also taken with Shams's lessons, or rules, which offer insight into an ancient philosophy based on the unity of all people and religions, and the presence of love in each and every one of us. As she reads on, she realizes that Rumi's story mirrors her own and that Zahara---like Shams---has come to set her free.
©2010 Elif Shafek (P)2010 Tantor
i love this book, everything about it, the storyline was pure genius, elif shafak is amazing. and the personnages: chams, aziz...rumi, loved it
Tell us about yourself! Attorney/Rancher - eclectic taste in books in both fiction and non-fiction. Preference for British authors in mysteries, love well written dialogue and hate historical fiction.
At 71, I really don't have the time left to listen to books about silly women and incredibly self-centered men, no matter what era or culture. I had thought I would like to know more about Rumi. I hope this is not an accurate characterization. As for the contemporary female character, I find it hard to accept that in 2008, a woman with an education and a family, would not care that her husband was sleeping with everything in sight, that her daughter was a selfish, self-absorbed and nasty little piece of work, and that she had so little insight into her other children, she could not recognize the signs of illness in the twin daughter. Although, I must say I have known some of these vapid women, and assumed them to have personality disorders, so perhaps I am too critical of the author.
All the time, the contemporary wife and some of the other characters from the 13th century whine on about "love," which to me, seems to be less about their fellow man, but the privilege of doing what they want, no matter the outcome to others.
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