Short Book Review on Elif Shafak´s The Forty Rules of Love

an Indian couple in loveElla Rubenstein seems to have everything a woman would need to feel as if her life is fulfilled; she should feel secure and confident. She has a husband, three teenagers and a lovely home however Ella’s life feels empty at the core, where once was filled with love is now bare.

Ella is shocked when she reads a manuscript on the thirteenth century Sufi poet and the Shams of Tabriz on his forty rules of love and life. She leaves her family behind and sets off on a journey in which she hopes to meet this mysterious author that has sparked her interest through his writing.

This will be a quest full of Sufi poetry and mysticism, one which will lead Ella into an exotic world brimming with the heartbreaking exploration of faith and love.

This book received great reviews from sources such as The Times and the Daily Telegraph. However, this book although at first fascinating quickly turned into a tragic farce. In the end the protagonist, Ella, relying on not only the teachings of Sufi love but also a superficial overlay of Islamic Beliefs to commit adultery.

Sufism advocates Self-abandonment; this was more along the lines of glorification of self-indulgence. This in no way glorifies the love of God, but greater motivates one to give in to their lower desires not stopping to consider how this may affect anyone else.

Ella seems to behave in either a dormant manner or completely egotistical, she is either putting up with the infidelities of her husband or leaving her family behind to delve into infidelities of her own. God in the form of love symbolizes among so many things honor, fidelity, duty and dignity all of which are completely thrown away.

She chooses to instead of rekindling love within her marriage with her husband who has been with her for over twenty years and with whom she has had three children to run away with a man she barely knows. This is not real love but more of a form of hopeless escapism. However, taken as a fictional fantasy for the reader to indulge in escapism, this can be a great read.

There is a term which was coined by the Greeks — agape which stands for a love of God, enlightened beings for each other that is spiritual, divine and unconditional, in this book the author clearly confuses agape with Eros.

For it’s good points, the author is a talented and delightful storyteller who makes this seductive portrayal an indulging read. However, the tendencies of the heroin are basically destructive and narcissistic, which is something that Sufism is not.

About the Author

Elif Shafak is an award-winning novelist and is known as the most read female writer in Turkey. Here writings are both in English and Turkish, and she has published a total of thirteen books, nine of them are novels. For more information look at her page


This book is a great read for someone who wants to escape into the fantasy of being able to throw caution to the wind and follow your primal instincts without regard for the consequences. However, it is not a good reflection of the spirit of Sufism.

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