Wednesday, October 6, 2010

the dervish and the homemaker (elif shafak)

"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 with 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. (pp.6-7)

and this is how it all starts. for her first assignment, ella is to read and critique a manuscript titled sweet blasphemy which tells the story of famed poet and mystic rumi and his friendship with shams of trabriz, a wandering dervish. set in anatolia in the 1200s, this story nonetheless has a very real effect on the life of ella rubinstein, jewish american mother of teenage twins and a daughter about to marry for love. which brings us to the word that keeps popping up in this book: love. this book, in short, is all about love. not in the saccharine sappy sort of way, not in the mere physical sort of way, - this is mystic, spiritual love we are talking about.

... someone comes along and makes you realize what you have been missing all this time. Like a mirror that reflects what is absent rather than present, he shows you the void in your soul - the void you have resisted seeing. That person can be a lover, a friend, or a spiritual master. Sometimes it can be a child to look after. What matters is to find the soul that will complete yours. All the prophets have given the same advice: Find the one who will be your mirror! For me that mirror is Shams of Tabriz.
... It's as if for years on end you compile a personal dictionary. In it you give your definition of every concept that matters to you, such as "truth," "happiness," or "beauty." At every major turning point in your life, you refer to this dictionary, hardly ever feeling the need to question its premises. Then one day a stranger comes and snatches your precious dictionary and throws it away. (p.192)

this book walks a fine line. so much has been said and written about love that almost anything one could say or write now, overtly, about love, would be repetition, or a breach of copyright (who holds the copyright to love?), or wading into cliché. shafak takes the risk, talks about love, introduces us to a number of memorable, strong characters through their own voices and the voices of those who care about them, fear them, love them.

and yes, of course the book talks about the Quran. how could it not, when its central characters are passionate scholars of Islam, of religion, of God. the central theme however are the forty rules of love already mentioned in the title.

i am an unlikely reader for this book, at first glance: impatient (poetry is my fiction! short books rule!), feminist, not interested in history-themed stuff, and the type of person not to pick up anything with "love" in the title. the reason i did read this book (well, i am two thirds of the way through) is that my friend p. gave it to me, saying, "you'll like this." she hadn't even finished reading it yet, but she gave it to me anyway, saying she would read it over again in turkish. :-) thank you, p! this is quite the book, and i am enjoying it very much. i am learning much, and, like ella, i am noticing how the ideas and ideals inside shams of tabriz are getting me to think, to look at things from a different angle. if that's not a good think in a book, in a work of art, then i don't know what is.

elif shafak's forty rules of love is very readable, it is by far not as dark as i feared it might be, in fact it is enjoyable and interesting and thought provoking. spiritually and intellectually stimulating.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Sounds VERY intriguing, and I'm not an avid reader; in fact, you might call me a RELUCTANT reader, lol.