Book Review: The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
Some books are so good that they make you feel what the characters are feeling, make you happy, make you sad, go through a journey with them and change. Then there are some books that transform you, stop you dead in your tracks, grip you with an iron fist so strong that the only way to get out is by finishing the book and by the time you do, it feels as if your story has ended and not the character’s story. For me, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak had a similar effect.
The book came to me suddenly and unexpectedly. While reading some other masterpiece which was troubling and reviving me, I needed to take a break, jump in and escape into another book. It was at this point that for some reason, this book, which had been lying there for I do not know how many years was the one that I picked up (or maybe it picked me) and what started off as some light reading ended as a deep emotional and spiritual experience.
As far as the rules go, I do not recall any rule. And probably, while reading the book, I did not feel that any of these “rules” per se were new or something I hadn’t already read. If like me you are an avid follower of self-help websites or go to Google to search about “isms” such as Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism etc, chances are, you have read these 40 rules in one way or another. There is however a big difference in the manner in which these rules have been written: a flowing, deep, dreamy, ever-changing yet continuous, writing with the author jumping into the minds (or eyes) of each person, building upon two heartbreaking stories centuries apart conveys these rules poetically along with the message that we are in fact one and connected in ways which are much beyond our comprehension.
Somehow reading these stories and the manner in which they flowed strengthened and brought to the front a longingness that I usually just brush aside: the longing of falling in love, a love that borders on devotion. Endowed with mysticism and Sufism, the story travelled through me, making no stops for analysis or reflection, and paying no heed to the “need to learn”, it got internalized to an extent that I couldn’t stop relating and at times playing some of the characters out here in my real life.
Now that the book has ended, I feel numb. But, at the same time, also feel this strangely inspiring desire to shun the life that I know and just let myself go in the poems and dance and music that I sometimes produce. Be horrible at it, but be slightly braver now, and open to the numinous, unaffected by the “goals” or the “to-do lists”. And maybe, just maybe, start loving.
I will probably go back to it again in the future (maybe when I am 40, if the earth survives humanity till that time, that is), and will probably quote much from it, but a few things that have grasped my mind and my heart, for now, are these:
The notion that “this needs to be done for future” is a trap (The book does mention that one of the biggest crime in the society is abandoning your future for the present). For we do not really have a future at any point, we only have a present. It is a trap set to preserve a sense of certainty, preserve institutions and hierarchies which are probably useless and definitely toxic for us and takes away our chance at life. Instead, being in and loving the “now” is the answer.
You can ask, “am I willing to change today? Change within, change the life as I know it?” and in whichever way possible, change. If each day does not revive you, it is sad.
Love is not perfect. Neither is life. Being close to and always striving to be close to the good, the perfection, the lovely, is just a strive to live an empty hollowed-out life. We can only learn to love in pain and reach our “Gods” only by leaving the perfect behind.
Whatever you see as profitable, flee from it! Drink poison and pour away the water of life! Abandon security and stay in frightful places! Throw away reputation and become disgraced and shameless!
All lives are beautiful. Everyone and everything teaches us, is capable of love, and can be loved. Love is varied, misunderstood, is not always in the shape of a partner, and has different forms. It can not really be decoded unless one is willing to experience it and go through the pain for it.
With so many thoughts and a grateful heart, I have finally concluded, that as for myself, I should find a job, maybe learn a new skill, definitely publish some papers. But maybe, try to not do them for the “future” and instead choose the next thing, or the next place to be, out of love, not fear. And it is with this thought and this summary that I begin this blog today. If the Internet is to be believed, blogging may be dead, and this may not pan out. But it is something I have loved and desired for a long time and thus, I am here, working for love.