“The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafak

The Forty Rules of Love

(Author: Elif Shafak) + (Year: 2010) + (Goodreads)


I’ve been procrastinating reading this book for as long as I’ve known about Shafak’s existence. Which is a very long time.

The reason is that everyone was telling me how magnificent The Forty Rules of Love is and how I just MUST read it. I was afraid that I’d be disappointed, and that I was. I’m going against the base theme of this book but stating this, but I’m really not into the hippie vibe of sufism. I might even agree with many of it’s themes, but preaching, as I’ve said earlier, is really not my thing, and I have low tolerance for people who feel this flabbergasting need to tell everyone how they should see the world.

To cut to the chase:

1. I’m pretty sure I read a really bad translation. I usually refrain from translated books, but the copy that I got my hands on was a translation and I was too lazy to search for an original one. Big mistake. The language was dreadful and unnatural, the characters’ inner thoughts were written so childishly and idiotic that I felt like I was reading the diary of a highly spoilt brat. Since I’m looking forward to reading other books by Shafak, namely The Bastard of Istanbul, I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that the horrible expressions the characters used were the result of a very listless translator.

2. I liked the general feel of the book and the ideology, but in the way that I feel it. I didn’t like the way it was presented and I was very let down by the atmosphere. I was really looking forward to plunging myself in Rumi’s age and world, but it wasn’t as richly described as I’d hoped.

3. The characters were the last straw for me. There was not a single person that I liked even a bit, never mind one with which I could identify.

– Ella: horrible, just horrible. Her thoughts and deductions of a somewhat rich American housewife had me wanting to throw things. Because she is a person without any charisma or character, she is so bored that she decides to have an affair to spice up her life. She is preachy and full of herself. And for the life of me I cannot imagine such a tasteless persona being a person of the arts, namely a writer, or at least a wannabe one. That  is also why her romance with Aziz is completely unbelievable, I cannot imagine how an open-minded and colorful person as himself would ever fall in love with such an unlikable woman.

Not to mention how much I hate adulterers. If you are not sure of your marriage, DON’T GET MARRIED. You can’t make me pity a person for choosing a bad marriage for a million dollars. Knowing that you might not be happy with someone and marrying them for the financial benefits is a crime for me so I don’t have even a nick of sympathy for Ella.

– Aziz was nowhere as charming as Shafak wanted to lead us to believe. I didn’t think he was such a godly creature, neither for that matter I felt that way for Shams, of whom Aziz was a very poor recreation. Shams was in fact intolerable. His endless tantrums were unbearable, his cold and unforgiving demeanor, his passion for humiliating everyone who doesn’t share his beliefs, his “love” for the outcasts in society is also so wrongly perceived by the public. I don’t share the view that everyone should pity you just because you are not an active member of society. I hardly think that an alcoholic deserves respect and affection, as we are lead to believe. Especially one who has neither the will, nor the intention of trying to redeem oneself. How is it that so many people can rise from poverty and become someone, and then there are so many who have the opportunity to do so but instead choose to dwell in self-pity. Therefore I don’t share the craze about alcoholics, prostitutes, beggars etc. Yes, there are people in this world who are truly victims of their birthplace and their families, but none of the characters in this book were, because they were not really born in poverty, most of them had fallen from grace.

What was truly astonishing for me is how one is supposed to buy into Shams’ splendor, considering that nothing amazing about him is ever shown. In his episodes he is always an asshole, but off-screen he seems to do marvels. That’s not how books work, I’m afraid. If you want to convince the reader of one of the character’s qualities, you should prove them instead of just claiming them.

– Rumi: another disappointment. I’ve read about him, studied about him in university and I’ve always imagined him as a very inspiring person. In this book however, he is a spineless old fool, held on a leash by a spoilt child in the body of a grown man. Most of the time I couldn’t even bear reading about Rumi’s “sun, the light of his days, blah blah blah blah”, spare me. Nobody with this sappy a language should be allowed to exist.

Maybe I should reconsider reading another of Shafak’s books.


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