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[E] Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love | Book Review | #AtoZ

I had been hearing a lot of rave reviews from friends and acquaintances alike about Elif Shafak’s novel The Forty Rules of Love. The underlining theme of Sufism running through this book is what had enchanted them. The book blurb did pique my curiosity and I ended up picking this book.

Title: The Forty Rules of Love

Author:  Elif Shafak

Genre: Fiction

Publication: Penguin


Born in Strasbourg, France in 1971, Elif Shafak is a very popular female Turkish writer who loves to incorporate her cultural nuances into her stories which are generally woven around women and their issues while growing up in an Islamic state. She writes fiction in English and Turkish and has been translated into over 40 languages. She has been awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. Shafak has written over 13 books, including The Bastard of Istanbul, Black Milk, The Architect’s Apprentice and The Honour.


The Forty Rules of Love is a novel with twin storylines running parallel to each other and often mirroring reflections on each other.

The First narrative opens in the Contemporary today of Massachusetts, USA where Ella Rubenstein a forty-year old Jewish housewife lives an ordinary life. Ella has recently realised how unhappy her life is, despite a husband (who is cheating on her) and three children (who are overtly independent of her) and fears depression now. To revive herself, she joins a literary agency which gives her a book “Sweet Blasphemy” by Aziz Zahara to review. It is this book that forms the core of the second narrative as the author explores the life and thoughts of the Sufi poet Shams of Tabriz and the 13th century poet Rumi who becomes the former’s beloved disciple.

“On the Sufi path, first you discover the art of being alone amid the crowd. Next you discover the crowd within your solitude – the voices inside you.”― Elif ShafakThe Forty Rules of Love

As Ella reads the book, she is greatly influenced by the philosophy of Shamz and begins to reflect on her life vis-a-vis it. She also begins to correspond with the writer Aziz over emails and slowly falls in love with him. Ella realises the despondency of her life and begins to dream of a life with him. She has no qualms in giving up her current life in exchange for a life with Aziz.

Meanwhile Shamz has a vision of his death and sets out to find a suitable disciple for himself, who can be entrusted with his philosophy. His search takes him from Samarkand to Baghdad until he hears of Jalaluddin Rumi who is a Sufi poet of that time. Rumi falls in awe of Shamz and begins to follow him blindly, earning the wrath of his disciples and followers who see Shamz as a heretic and wish to see him dead.

“Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” ― Elif ShafakThe Forty Rules of Love

Both Ella and Rumi explore their relationships via Aziz and Shamz, respectively and break the many shackles imposed by propriety and society. In the process both have to face some hard truths too.

All through, Shamz dispenses his thoughts on love and his sufi philosophy through many examples and events that propel the reader to absorb them effortlessly. He preaches and practices the essential Sufi wisdom of love without any restraint, often drawing the anger of the society which perceives him as violating their norms and conventions.

The book ends with Shamz death as seen by him and Aziz’s too who is suffering from an illness. Ella finds him but he is gravely ill and cannot be saved, despite her many ministrations.

Lasting Impression on me:

What stands out for me in this book is the message of love and living one’s life true to oneself. The ancient philosophy advocated by Shamz about love uniting all is beautiful and makes sense to me in this day and age too. The idea of self-love is something I have been exploring for quite a while now and this book talks about it abundantly. Love is what will set us free to live a life worth living; that is the core message of this book.

One cannot hide behind the rules of society and live a false life. By shedding the meaningless perceptions, deigned by others, we can be true to our true self and that is the self that is worth living for and living with.

The book abhors the moral policing and self-righteous preaching that a certain sect of the society is hell-bent on dispensing to the rest and talks about setting ourselves free with love. To live and let live is the biggest truth in this book for me.

My Rating:

I fell in love with this book as it echoed and answered a lot of questions that I had been asking at the time I picked up this book to read. Its one of the reasons why it settled so well with me. I have no hesitation in awarding this book a 5***** rating. Read this book when you have some free time, when your mind is free too from everyday hassles.

* This post contains affiliate links and if you click to buy from here, I will earn some referral fee amount *

Have you ever read Sufi philosophy? You must have heard about Rumi and read all his famous quotes too. What did you think of this book selection of mine? Read about a Dervish performance I happened to attend last year.


I am on a no-book-buying pact as I am pretty much broke; not to mention that I am running out of space as well!! But incase anyone wants to trade their books or send me gifts, please do check out my Wishlist on Amazon & Want to read on Goodreads.

For the uninitiated, AtoZ challenge is a blogging challenge wherein one has to write on every alphabet from A to Z and post on all days of April, except Sundays. Usually its better to devise a theme as it makes it easy to write the posts. Plus readers have a reason to stay hooked too.

Some of my previous  posts you might be interested in catching up on

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Loved this review and would like to have an honest review of your book by me; please drop me a mail on with :

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23 thoughts on “[E] Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love | Book Review | #AtoZ

  1. Again added this book in my books to read on goodreads. You have really solid recommendations here, and they go so well with what I love to read. After finishing my books I will run after the books you have recommended.

  2. I am totally smitten by anything to do with Rumi. As for this book – it has alternately been recommended and reviled. I think its time to read it and make my own opinion. I stopped reading your synopsis afraid there may be spoilers but was intrigued by what I did read.

  3. Wow I liked this post and I have never read this kind of a book, yes I love Rumi’s quotes. I would love to read this book sometime, I shall add to my wish list. Both the quotes in this post are inspiring .Thank you for sharing:)

    1. Thank you Angela, I hope you read this book as it’s got such amazing words in it that will remain long after you shut the book.

    1. I hear your Ramya, same with me. Did you do a review of it? Would love to read it as you are one of my fav reviewers.

    1. Hey that’s good to know Soumya and I know you will do a fantastic review of it which I am looking forward to reading.

  4. I have read only the free sample of this book, from Amazon. Loved it so much. The narrative is very connecting and very gripping. I even started sending emails to Publishing Houses to be able to read unsolicited, unpublished manuscripts. Like the lead.

    Next book haul, i am buying this. Enough of waiting!

    I really look up to Sufi themes and thoughts.

    1. hey that’s great to hear and I hope you get a response from them soonest. This book might prove boring initially; it appealed to me after three years and that’s because I was in a particular frame of mind. So do have a bit of patience with this one but it will be a rewarding read for sure. I am planning on re reading it after the challenge finishes.

      1. Hm. Yes. Would be patient while picking this one up. Another book that needed patience but proved to be a gem, was The River God by Wilbur Smith. It’s on Egyptian dynasties, narrated by an eunuch. It took me 4 months to actually read, and a year before that it just sat on the shelf.
        I don’t remember rereading any book yet. While my sister rereads every book that appeals to her. Do share your second reading experience too.

    1. Oh yes my book list is growing daily too as there are some lovely reviewers in this challenge. I am so glad this was my topic for this year as I am loving writing about these books which I have enjoyed reading over past 30 years or so.

  5. […] Elif Shafak has spun a tale of love and longing in this well written book which enchanted me from the first sentence. A parallel narrative runs in the book which switches from present day to events happening in the past as written in a book being read by the protagonist. Our heroine is a book editor who is reading a book written on the Sufi poet Shams and his relationship with Rumi. In the book, Shams gives out the 40 rules of love, each a gem in its own. While reading the book, the protagonist goes through her own life and begins to unravel it to re-build it. Only this time she has her happiness in the forefront over everyone else. The book takes us on a twin journey which allows us to have a second look at our lives too. I found this book to be very powerful from a woman’s perspective and that’s why it finds itself here on this list! You can read my review of it here […]

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