Status: Read from Feb 14 to Feb 18, 2016
My rating: /5
Author: Elif Shafak
Ella Rubinstein has a husband, three teenage children, and a pleasant home. Everything that should make her confident and fulfilled. Yet there is an emptiness once filled by love.
So when Ella reads a manuscript about the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, and his forty rules of life and love, she is shocked out of herself. Turning her back on her family she embarks on a journey to meet the mysterious author of this work.
It is a quest infused with Sufi mysticism and verse, taking Ella and us into an exotic world where faith and love are heartbreakingly explored…
Beautifully enlightening and though provoking book. There are two parallel narrative, one during the thirteenth-century another during the twenty-first century.
Forty year old, Ella Rubinstein lives at Northampton, Massachusetts with her family that consists of her husband who is a successful dentist and three teenage children. She has got everything for a well settled family life needs, a large Victorian house, life insurance, car insurance, retirement plans, college saving plans, joint bank accounts, and two apartments. A perfect picture of an ideal life: A big, busy house with noisy children, elegant furnitures.
But she and her husband do not connect emotionally. But that’s ok for her as this cannot be priority for a man and woman married for so long now. There are more important things then passion and love in marriage. Her children top the lists of her priorities. She has taken up a job at a literacy agency where she has to read a book and submit a report on it. The book she had got to read is titled Sweet Blasphemy by an author named Aziz. Z. Zahara. So, Sweet Blasphemy is the second narration of the book.
The book Sweet Blasphemy contradicts each and every thoughts of Ella about life and love. She feels disturbed and excited.
Its story of the great philosopher, mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi and his beloved sun, Shams of Tabriz in their quest for eternal love of God. The story in Sweet Blasphemy is narrated by various people, the beggar, Sulaiman the Drunk, Dessert Rose the harlot, the killer, Rumi’s family members, Shams of Tabriz and Rumi himself. Shams questions every social aspect held by Rumi. God does not follow any rules, or God is not a grocer who weighs our virtues and wrongdoings in separate scale. God does not judge the way people connect to him. There is no specific way. God looks deep into our heart. Every human is work in progress that is moving towards perfection. If you cannot love your fellow human, his creation, how can you connect to God? Love has no labels, no definitions. It’s pure and simple. But where there is love, there is bound to be heartache. And, of course, the beauty and wisdom comes from that difficult experience. Had Shams not challenged every aspect and belief of Rumi, Rumi wouldn’t have learned. Had Rumi not lost Shams, Rumi wouldn’t have become poet.
Ella compares each and every aspect of this book with her own monotonous ordinary life which has settled into a regular routine with no love or emotions left. Ella undergoes a transformation in search for love, breaking the boundaries of her social life. In the similar way as Rumi transforms from a well-respected scholar into a famous poet.
What I loved the most about in this book is the character Shams of Tabriz and his role in transformation of Rumi into a poet. I loved the way Shams tried to put some sense into a fellow human by means of short stories. One of the stories which I liked the most:
Two men were travelling from one town to another. They came to a stream that had risen due to heavy rainfall. Just when they were about to cross the water, they noticed a young, beautiful woman standing there all alone, in need of help. One of the men immediately went to her side. He picked the women up and carried her in his arms across the stream. Then he dropped her there, waved good-bye, and the two men went their way.
During the rest of the trip, the second traveller was unusually silent and sullen, not responding to his friend’s questions. After several hours of sulking, unable to keep silent anymore, he said, “Why did you touch that woman? She could have seduced you! Men and women cannot come into contact like that!”
The first man responded calmly, “My friend, I carried the woman across the stream, and that is where I left her. It is you who have been carrying her ever since.”
This book is full of beautiful rules and quotes on love and life.
This is my first Elif Shafak book, and certainly I am going to read more of her books. After reading this book, I have become more interested in the life of Rumi and his transformation into a renowned Sufi poet. I look forward to find more books about him. I already have got Coleman Barks book of Rumi’s translated poetry.
About the Author:
Elif Shafak was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1971. She is an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Critics have named her as “one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Turkish and world literature”. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and she was awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.
Shafak has published thirteen books, nine of which are novels. She writes fiction in both Turkish and English. Shafak blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling, bringing out the myriad stories of women, minorities, immigrants, subcultures, youth and global souls. Her work draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, as well as deep interest in history, philosophy, Sufism, oral culture, and cultural politics. Shafak’s writing breaks down categories, clichés, and cultural ghettoes. She also has a keen eye for black humor.
Shafak’s first novel, Pinhan (The Mystic) was awarded the “Rumi Prize” in 1998, which is given to the best work in mystical literature in Turkey. Her second novel, Şehrin Aynaları (Mirrors of the City), brings together Jewish and Islamic mysticism against a historical setting in the 17th century Mediterranean. Shafak greatly increased her readership with her novel Mahrem (The Gaze), which earned her the “Best Novel-Turkish Writers’ Union Prize” in 2000. Her next novel, Bit Palas (The Flea Palace), has been a bestseller in Turkey and was shortlisted for the Independent Best Fiction Award.
Shafak’ wrote her next novel in English. The Saint of Incipient Insanities was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her second novel written in English is The Bastard of Istanbul, which was the bestselling book of 2006 in Turkey and was longlisted for the Orange prize. The novel, which tells the story of an Armenian and a Turkish family through the eyes of women, brought Shafak under prosecution but the charges were ultimately dismissed.
Following the birth of her daughter in 2006 she suffered from post-natal depression, an experience she addressed in her first autobiographical book, Black Milk. In this book Shafak explored the beauties and difficulties of being a writer and a mother. The book was received with great interest and acclaim by critics and readers alike, being an instant bestseller.
Shafak’s next novel focused on Love and love –East & West, past & present, spiritual & mundane, all in the light of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. The Forty Rules of Love sold over 750 k copies, becoming an all time best-seller in Turkey and in France awarded with the Prix ALEF – Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangère. It is also nominated for 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Her latest novel published in English, Iskender (Honour), has topped the best-seller lists and has been acclaimed by both critics and readers of various ages and backgrounds. The novel has opened up a vivid debate in Turkey about family, love, freedom, redemption and the construct of masculinity. It is the winner of the 2013 Prix Relay des voyageurs in France; nominated for 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction and 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Her most recent novel Ustam ve Ben (2013 December) revolves around the life of Mimar Sinan, the most famous Ottoman architect and opens up important debates on power, creativity, artistic freedom and bigotry.
Besides writing fiction, Shafak is an active political commentator, columnist and public speaker. She is a regular contributor to major newspapers in Turkey and has been featured in major newspapers and periodicals, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent, and The World Post/Huffington Post. She has taught at various universities in Turkey, UK and USA. Having graduated from the program in International Relations at Middle East Technical University, she holds a Masters degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in Politic.
Visit her website here.
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