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Reviewed in the United States on August 3, 2017

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My heart soared while reading this book, and I was uplifted by the Sufi wisdom contained throughout it. The 40 rules of love, conveyed through the character of Shams, were so beautiful that I wanted to copy out each of them and save them for future reference.

Both of the parallel stories in this book were fascinating: the modern American woman grappling with a loveless marriage, and the spiritual bromance between Rumi and Shams in Turkey in the 1200s. I loved how the author braided them together.

Just as Hesses Siddhartha is a mystical introduction to Buddhism, so is this novel a view into Sufi mysticism. And just as I felt emotionally transported by Hesses masterpiece, so did I during The Forty Rules of Love. This is a rare accomplishment. I am very grateful to Elif Shafak for this gorgeous tale, so elegantly and masterfully told. It made me want to do further research into Rumis poetry and Sufi thought in general.

Reviewed in the United States on August 19, 2017

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The universe conspired to arrange eating dinner in Istanbul with a Turkish friend I had not seen in many years. When we first met, at a small village in Hungary, she read me a poem by Rumi. We talked for hours more during a long walk through the crowded streets and while drinking coffee on a rooftop, she told me that I must read this book. The next day I saw it, by chance, when walking past a dusty airport shop - of course.
I would like to tell Ms.Shafak what I liked about the book (in addition to an excellent story, useful quotes, an educational experience, and a few tears): I could hear each character telling their story in Their particular voice, allowing me to appreciate their point of view, without judgement. Which is a lesson from the book, and in human relationships.
“It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human beings with all their imperfections and defects.” ― Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love

Reviewed in the United States on May 27, 2018

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This book is in essence a cheap romance novel disguised as a “novel” with a bit of mysticism thrown in.

There are two stories of relationships, one that takes place in the present between Ella and Aziz, and one that takes places in the past between Shams and Rumi.

Ignoring the modern part of the story which ultimately feels contrived, rushed, and forced into the book, the parts that take place in Konya (the past) are intriguing through the first half of the book but then the author gets sloppy, and Shams, who I found inspiring, loses all credibility as to the fault of the author, whom likely lost track of the numerous rules and lessons of love that Shams preaches. Throughout the last half of the book Shams’ character is breaking many of the rules the author places earlier in the book and the whole “40 Rules of Love” becomes a severely disjointed and amateur effort.

It seems much like Ella’s part-time occupation, someone at the publishing house should have reviewed this book and pointed out the many inconsistencies within its pages. However, the lessons and inconsistencies are so various that it would have been very difficult to save this novel.

Reviewed in the United States on March 7, 2019

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To begin with, I have always had great respect and affection for Rumi and Shams, and I am quite familiar with Rumi’s works, not only his poetry but his correspondence together with the history and stories of his life. That is probably why I have conflicting feelings about this novel.

On the one hand, the author has done great service to make Rumi, Shams, and their specific mysticism more familiar to the Western World, while offering a version of Islam that is exalted and very different from today’s Islamists.

On the other hand, the author’s attempt at inserting a contemporary love story and making it mirror Rumi’s story, however with good intentions, took away from my enjoyment of the book. Especially likening Aziz to Shams in a few places, even though Aziz himself denied it to Ella at the end, felt like disrespect to Shams and Rumi’s lofty spiritual idealism to me.

The thirteenth-century story--that is Rumi’s and Shams’-- is quite correct, and thankfully, very little fictionalizing has been done to it. Most of the fictionalizing show itself in secondary and supporting characters.

The interweaving of Ella’s story into Rumi’s story gave me something like small electrical jolts together with disbelief because from my point of view, the contemporary story either needed to be left out or developed much better. On top of that, Aziz is not a Shams and Ella is not a Rumi, not by a long shot. For me, these two stories do not illuminate or relate to each other at all.

Having said all this, I did like the author’s handling of the supporting characters such as Suleiman the Drunk, the Zealot, and the Desert Rose. Within the small confines of these characters’ roles, the author succeeded in giving them many sides and conflicting characteristics.

The story is told in the first person from the viewpoint of many characters, which I didn’t mind and even liked. Generally speaking, this author handles her characters quite masterfully by evoking empathy or sympathy in the readers Especially the historical sections are written with skill and accuracy.

The dialogues in Ella’s story felt dull and not very credible, maybe because I couldn’t wrap my head around the believability of the entire contemporary plot sections. The dialogues in the thirteenth-century story felt more authentic.

As to the plot weaving, thirteenth-century story’s plot shines probably due to the author’s minute attention to the original histories of the main and secondary characters. Yet, Ella’s story’s plot that takes place our time is a much inferior one, and probably that is why its mirroring Rumi’s story is a letdown.

As a reader, I would have enjoyed Rumi and Shams’ story more if Ella’s story were to be taken out of the book.

Reviewed in the United States on July 20, 2018

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My husband and I read this book aloud together and we loved it. The book begins with an unhappily married Jewish housewife and mother named Ella who lives in 2008 Northampton, Massachusetts. She works for a literary agency is is assigned a book named “Sweet Blasphemy” by Aziz Zahara which is about the wondering dervish, Shams, who comes to be the close companion of Rumi the famous Persian poet. Shafak’s novel goes back and forth between the two narratives of Shams and Ella. Shams dispenses his forty rules one by one as he journeys through his 13th century world from Baghdad to Konya and Ella communicates with Aziz to expand her own journey. A delightful book!

Top reviews from other countries

5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring and thought-provoking!

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 1, 2019

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I ordered The Forty Rules of Love after it was recommended to me by a friend and I had no idea what kind of book it was until I began reading it. At first glance I thought it was purely religious, and, not being religious myself, I thought I had made a mistake, but how wrong I was!
Having been extrememly disappointed with The Alchemist, I can honestly say I was blown away by the plethora of messages in The Forty Rules of Love! So much so that once I had finished reading it I immediately went back to the beginning to re-read it, which I have never done with any other book. If you are soul-searching, looking for answers, then you simply have to read this book!

5.0 out of 5 stars Out of this world.

Reviewed in India on February 6, 2018

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Incredible, fantastic, awesome...are far too less to describe this book. The story is amazing but the best part is after reading this book youll feel transformed. The language is easy to understand and the work of this author will seem as if the characters are live in front, more like a movie than a book.
Go ahead,get this masterpiece and thank me later.😊

Customer

5.0 out of 5 stars Out of this world.
Reviewed in India on February 6, 2018

Incredible, fantastic, awesome...are far too less to describe this book. The story is amazing but the best part is after reading this book youll feel transformed. The language is easy to understand and the work of this author will seem as if the characters are live in front, more like a movie than a book.
Go ahead,get this masterpiece and thank me later.😊

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Customer

4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful understanding of the Sufi concept of Love

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 13, 2018

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“A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western…Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is a water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire. the universe turns itself different when fire loves water.”

Ella is a housewife living in the suburbs of Massachusetts living a seemingly perfect, but a loveless life with a cheating husband and no identity of her own. She gets a chance to break her monotony the she gets a chance to review a manuscript, “Sweet Blasphemy”, written by a maverick sufi, Aziz Zahara based one the teachings on Shams of Tabriz and his companionship with the celebrated poet, Rumi. Sham’s and Rumi’s story, “Sweet Blasphemy”, runs in parallel to that of Ella and Aziz. Ella begins correspondence with the writer of the book and he makes her realise what she has always been missing in her life; love and the ability to live in the present without the fear of the future. But will this realisation liberate her, or completely shake the foundations of her world; just as what happened with Rumi when he met Shams.

This book is essentially about love. And by love, Shams didn’t mean just the love between a man and a woman. It’s the love that surrounds us which could be in any form; the love of man for God or the love of man for self. Life would be meaningless without love. I really liked how the author included the teachings of Shams in the narrative; it is evident from the title that the book is about his forty rules; but the way it has been included in the narrative is a masterpiece of writing. What is also beautiful is the relationships in the book; that of Rumi and Shams and also Ella and Aziz. They are bound by ties of love that doesn’t need a definition. The author’s masterstroke was to include the story of Shams and Rumi from different perspectives; from that of a begger to that of a prostitute.

This book has a lot of elements of Sufi philosophy; so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But the message of the book is universal and hence appealing.

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book for my fortieth year!!

Reviewed in India on March 7, 2018

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I would love to give it a 4.5 - it went beyond really liking it and yet, I wouldnt say it was absolutely amazing... but I loved it. The first half of the book did nothing for me... I found it just like every other book and philosophy on heart-centered philosophy that I had read and studied. I even wondered what all the hoohaa about the book was.

Then all of a sudden, I was past mid-way into the story and I realised I had spent close to a month with the book, which in itself was a first. And just like that, the story became a reflection and an introspection - a pause to consider what these different rules of love meant to me. The story line in itself was lovely and complete in the various facets of observation - looking through the lens and inside the thoughts of the various characters was very liberating - and insightful.

What really drew me in was not the forty rules of love, but the sudden realisation that like Ella, I too had embarked on this year with an intention and instinct that this, my fortieth, was holding the promise and potential of major change. I could relate to Ella and her emotions at many times - and it was quite the coincidence and my son is also named Avi.

It was freeing to notice the patriarchy of spiritual pursuits in an ancient age and how the author has allowed both Rumi and Shams to dip into the idea of equal opportunity as well as explore the potential of social limitations of their time.

I found myself empathising with Ellas notion of love and marriage, holding my own relationships as a benchmark, and at the same time wondering if I were as hardened as her - knowing that I was not, yet allowing enough space to question, Are you holding something back? What is stopping you? In particular, her heart spoken, deep inside she longed for love. really pulled at my heart strings.

The rules explored in this book and the narratives leading to it (along with the parables interspersed) are a good guide for those who find mystic sufism of interest - more so, if you have a philosophical tangent to spirituality and dont yet realise that it is a sufi trait. Yet, with love woven into every nook and corner, I found myself really <i>not getting</i> the Shams-Rumi love in totality. I could sense it and then it fell away as I couldnt always accept them putting their love above and beyond those around them.

Or perhaps it is because I still am on the spiritual vibration of a lesser kind of love :) Something that is still working on the relational level and hoping to edge towards the madness of divine spiritual love and oneness.

Deep - too deep even for me today.

Kimya ... my heart bled for her. I couldnt understand it. It brought up all those ideals of pain where the woman is left yearning in the throes of unrequited love and I was angry at Shams for even accepting it. What good is his realisation of his mistake in marrying her, if he was going to let her die. He was so intuitive about everyone including the man who was hiding there waiting to kill him, but he couldnt sense the needs of his wife. No, I hated him then - and his chauvinist (for lack of a better word) focus on his oneness bit. harumph!

But yet, I smiled at his explanation to Kimya of the Al-Nisa verse and his sharing of the alternative perspective of male superiority. It was impressive - the context of manhood and womanhood versus men and women - or even masculine and feminine, for that matter. Perhaps it just sheds a little more light on what we consider these gender stereotypes today. Or is it because the author is a woman and she brings a contemporary feminine yearning to the table?

I loved the book - I loved how it made me feel. I loved how I chose to read it in preparation for my fortieth this month. I love how I ended it in my birthday month with a feeling of grounding that this just might be that turning point of age and mystic symbolism, the number 40, that the author has amplified throughout the book.

Looking forward to the year ahead. This one was a good spring-board.

5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent feat of literary

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 25, 2018

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The novel brings Shams and Rumi to life. It provides us with a perspective that no other book can. This is not a history book, but its a book to understand history. Rumi wasnt the accidental wordsmith poet, neither was Shams the passing friend. The spiritual dynamic between them, set against the social and historic background, is a force that explains why Rumi is still who he is today.
The novel was written in a clever mixture of multi- voices and a third persons voice, with oscillating jumps back and fro in time. The result is a lean crisp narrative that grips you to the lat word. And there you wish that there was more.
I shall certainly read it again.

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