The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi

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9780670021451: The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi

Listen to Elif Shafak's The Forty Rules of Love reviewed on NPR In this lyrical, exuberant follow-up to her 2007 novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, acclaimed Turkish author Elif Shafak unfolds two tantalizing parallel narratives—one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz—that together incarnate the poet's timeless message of love.

Ella Rubenstein is forty years old and unhappily married when she takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment is to read and report on Sweet Blasphemy, a novel written by a man named Aziz Zahara. Ella is mesmerized by his tale of Shams's search for Rumi and the dervish's role in transforming the successful but unhappy cleric into a committed mystic, passionate poet, and advocate of love. She is also taken with Shams's lessons, or rules, that offer insight into an ancient philosophy based on the unity of all people and religions, and the presence of love in each and every one of us. As she reads on, she realizes that Rumi's story mir­rors her own and that Zahara—like Shams—has come to set her free.

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About the Author:

Elif Shafak is an award-winning author whose previous books include The Bastard of Istanbul and The Saint of Incipient Insanities. She divides her time between London and Istanbul.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Foreword

 

The Killer

 

PART ONE - Earth

Shams

Ella

Shams

Ella

The Master

Ella

The Novice

Ella

The Master

The Letter

Shams

Ella

The Letter

The Novice

Shams

The Novice

Ella

 

PART TWO - Water

Rumi

Shams

Hasan the Beggar

Shams

Ella

Desert Rose the Harlot

Hasan the Beggar

Suleiman the Drunk

Ella

Desert Rose the Harlot

Suleiman the Drunk

Ella

Ella

 

PART THREE - Wind

The Zealot

Shams

Rumi

Ella

Aladdin

Rumi

Kerra

Kimya

Ella

Kerra

Shams of Tabriz

Ella

Baybars the Warrior

Ella

Rumi

Kimya

Sultan Walad

Kerra

Rumi

Sultan Walad

Ella

Desert Rose the Harlot

Kimya

Shams

Ella

Desert Rose the Harlot

Ella

Shams

 

PART FOUR - Fire

Suleiman the Drunk

Aladdin

Shams

Ella

The Zealot

Husam the Student

Baybars the Warrior

Ella

Kerra

Sultan Walad

Suleiman the Drunk

Aladdin

Shams

Ella

 

PART FIVE - The Void

Sultan Walad

Rumi

Shams

Kimya

Kerra

Ella

Shams

Aladdin

Kimya

Desert Rose

Kimya

Ella

Suleiman the Drunk

The Killer

Ella

Aladdin

Sultan Walad

Rumi

Ella

 

Acknowledgements

Glossary

Sources

ALSO BY ELIF SHAFAK

The Bastard of Istanbul

 

The Saint of Incipient Insanities

VIKING

 

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3

(a division ofPearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division ofPenguin Books Ltd) Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 CamberwellRoad, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of PearsonAustralia Group Pty Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

 

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:

80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

First published in 2010 by Viking Penguin,

a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

Copyright © Elif Shafak, 2010

All rights reserved

 

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint excerpts from the following copyrighted works:

“Only Breath” and “Why Wine Is Forbidden” from The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks (HarperCollins). Used by permission of Coleman Barks.

“Tattooing in Qazwin” from A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings by Coleman Barks. Copyright © 2006 by Coleman Barks.

 

Publisher’s Note

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Shafak, Elif, 1971-The forty rules of love : a novel of Rumi / Elif Shafak.

p. cm.

ISBN: 9781101189948

1. Housewives—Fiction. 2. Jewish women—Fiction. 3. Sufis—Fiction. 4. Sufism—Fiction. 5. Jalal al-Din Rumi, Maulana, 1207-1273—Fiction. 6. Mevleviyeh—Fiction. I. Title. PS3619.H328F’.6—dc22 2009037525

 

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

To Zahir & Zelda

When I was a child, I saw God,
I saw angels;
I watched the mysteries of the higher and lower worlds. I thought all men saw the same. At last I realized that they did not see....

 

-SHAMS OF TABRIZ

Prologue

 

 

 

 

Between your fingers you hold a stone and throw it into flowing water. The effect might not be easy to see. There will be a small ripple where the stone breaks the surface and then a splash, muffled by the rush of the surrounding river. That’s all.

Throw a stone into a lake. The effect will be not only visible but also far more lasting. The stone will disrupt the still waters. A circle will form where the stone hit the water, and in a flash that circle will multiply into another, then another. Before long the ripples caused by one plop will expand until they can be felt everywhere along the mirrored surface of the water. Only when the circles reach the shore will they stop and die out.

If a stone hits a river, the river will treat it as yet another commotion in its already tumultuous course. Nothing unusual. Nothing unmanageable.

If a stone hits a lake, however, the lake will never be the same again.

For forty years Ella Rubinstein’s life had consisted of still waters—a predictable sequence of habits, needs, and preferences. Though it was monotonous and ordinary in many ways, she had not found it tiresome. During the last twenty years, every wish she had, every person she befriended, and every decision she made was filtered through her marriage. Her husband, David, was a successful dentist who worked hard and made a lot of money. She had always known that they did not connect on any deep level, but connecting emotionally need not be a priority on a married couple’s list, she thought, especially for a man and a woman who had been married for so long. There were more important things than passion and love in a marriage, such as understanding, affection, compassion, and that most godlike act a person could perform, forgiveness. Love was secondary to any of these. Unless, that is, one lived in novels or romantic movies, where the protagonists were always larger than life and their love nothing short of legend.

Ella’s children topped her list of priorities. They had a beautiful daughter in college, Jeannette, and teenage twins, Orly and Avi. Also, they had a twelve-year-old golden retriever, Spirit, who had been Ella’s walking buddy in the mornings and her cheeriest companion ever since he’d been a puppy. Now he was old, overweight, completely deaf, and almost blind; Spirit’s time was coming, but Ella preferred to think he would go on forever. Then again, that was how she was. She never confronted the death of anything, be it a habit, a phase, or a marriage, even when the end stood right in front of her, plain and inevitable.

The Rubinsteins lived in Northampton, Massachusetts, in a large Victorian house that needed some renovation but still was splendid, with five bedrooms, three baths, shiny hardwood floors, a three-car garage, French doors, and, best of all, an outdoor Jacuzzi. They had life insurance, car insurance, retirement plans, college savings plans, joint bank accounts, and, in addition to the house they lived in, two prestigious apartments: one in Boston, the other in Rhode Island. She and David had worked hard for all this. A big, busy house with children, elegant furniture, and the wafting scent of homemade pies might seem a cliché to some people, but to them it was the picture of an ideal life. They had built their marriage around this shared vision and had attained most, if not all, of their dreams.

On their last Valentine’s Day, her husband had given her a heart-shaped diamond pendant and a card that read,

To my dear Ella,

 

A woman with a quiet manner, a generous heart, and the patience of a saint. Thank you for accepting me as I am. Thank you for being my wife.

 

Yours,

David

Ella had never confessed this to David, but reading his card had felt like reading an obituary. This is what they will write about me when I die, she had thought. And if they were sincere, they might also add this:

Building her whole life around her husband and children, Ella lacked any survival techniques to help her cope with life’s hardships on her own. She was not the type to throw caution to the wind. Even changing her daily coffee brand was a major effort.

All of which is why no one, including Ella, could explain what was going on when she filed for divorce in the fall of 2008 after twenty years of marriage.

But there was a reason: love.

They did not live in the same city. Not even on the same continent. The two of them were not only miles apart but also as different as day and night. Their lifestyles were so dissimilar that it seemed impossible for them to bear each other’s presence, never mind fall in love. But it happened. And it happened fast, so fast in fact that Ella had no time to realize what was happening and to be on guard, if one could ever be on guard against love.

Love came to Ella as suddenly and brusquely as if a stone had been hurled from out of nowhere into the tranquil pond of her life.

Ella

 

 

 

 

NORTHAMPTON, MAY 17, 2008

 

Birds were singing outside her kitchen window on that balmy day in spring. Afterward Ella replayed the scene in her mind so many times that, rather than a fragment from the past, it felt like an ongoing moment still happening somewhere out there in the universe.

There they were, sitting around the table, having a late family lunch on a Saturday afternoon. Her husband was filling his plate with fried chicken legs, his favorite food. Avi was playing his knife and fork like drumsticks while his twin, Orly, was trying to calculate how many bites of which food she could eat so as not to ruin her diet of 650 calories a day. Jeannette, who was a freshman at Mount Holyoke College nearby, seemed lost in her thoughts as she spread cream cheese on another slice of bread. Also at the table sat Aunt Esther, who had stopped by to drop off one of her famous marble cakes and then stayed on for lunch. Ella had a lot of work to do afterward, but she was not ready to leave the table just yet. Lately they didn’t have too many shared family meals, and she saw this as a golden chance for everyone to reconnect.

“Esther, did Ella give you the good news?” David asked suddenly. “She found a great job.”

Though Ella had graduated with a degree in English literature and loved fiction, she hadn’t done much in the field after college, other than editing small pieces for women’s magazines, attending a few book clubs, and occasionally writing book reviews for some local papers. That was all. There was a time when she’d aspired to become a prominent book critic, but then she simply accepted the fact that life had carried her elsewhere, turning her into an industrious housewife with three kids and endless domestic responsibilities.

Not that she complained. Being the mother, the wife, the dog walker, and the housekeeper kept her busy enough. She didn’t have to be a breadwinner on top of all these. Though none of her feminist friends from Smith College approved of her choice, she was satisfied to be a stay-at-home mom and grateful that she and her husband could afford it. Besides, she had never abandoned her passion for books and still considered herself a voracious reader.

A few years ago, things had begun to change. The children were growing up, and they made it clear that they didn’t need her as much as they once had. Realizing that she had too much time to spare and no one to spend it with, Ella had considered how it might be to find a job. David had encouraged her, but though they kept talking and talking about it, she rarely pursued the opportunities that came her way, and when she did, potential employers were always looking for someone younger or more experienced. Afraid of being rejected over and over, she had simply let the subject drop.

Nevertheless, in May 2008 whatever obstacle had impeded her from finding a job all these years unexpectedly vanished. Two weeks shy of her fortieth birthday, she found herself working for a literary agency based in Boston. It was her husband who found her the job through one of his clients—or perhaps through one of his mistresses.

“Oh, it’s no big deal,” Ella rushed to explain now. “I’m only a part-time reader for a literary agent.”

But David seemed determined not to let her think too little of her new job. “Come on, tell them it’s a well-known agency,” he urged, nudging her, and when she refused to comply, he heartily agreed with himself. “It’s a prestigious place, Esther. You should see the other assistants! Girls and boys fresh out of the best colleges. Ella is the only one going back to work after being a housewife for years. Now, isn’t she something?”

Ella wondered if, deep inside, her husband felt guilty about keeping her away from a career, or else about cheating on her—these being the only two explanations she could think of as to why he was now going overboard in his enthusiasm.

Still smiling, David concluded, “This is what I call chutzpah. We’re all proud of her.”

“She is a prize. Always was,” said Aunt Esther in a voice so sentimental that it sounded as if Ella had left the table and was gone for good.

They all gazed at her lovingly. Even Avi didn’t make a cynical remark, and Orly for once seemed to care about something other than her looks. Ella forced herself to appreciate this moment of kindness, but she felt an overwhelming exhaustion that she had never experienced before. She secretly prayed for someone to change the subject.

Jeannette, her older daughter, must have heard the prayer, for she suddenly chimed in, “I have some good news, too.”

All heads turned toward her, faces beaming with expectation.

“Scott and I have decided to get married,” Jeannette announced. “Oh, I know what you guys are going to say! That we haven’t finished college yet and all that, but you’ve got to understand, we both feel ready for the next big move.”

An awkward silence descended upon the kitchen table as the warmth that had canopied them just a moment ago evaporated. Orly and Avi exchanged blank looks...

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