In our everyday life, we often need inspirational books to remind us of the simple things in life, such as kindness and empathy, to be able to face the most challenging struggles. A writer who has successfully achieved this is Elif Shafak. She is one of the most acclaimed Turkish novelists with 15 published books. Among her most famous books are The Bastard of Istanbul, The Architect’s Apprentice, Honor and The 40 rules of Love. She is an academic, women’s rights activist, worldwide speaker and one of the most critic and controversial voices in Turkey.
Shafak writes her novels mainly in English and Turkish. She grew up with her mother, who was a diplomat. The writer has an outstanding academic path, with a bachelor in international Relations, a master in Gender and Women’s studies and a PhD in Political Science and Political Philosophy. She has been a professor in diverse universities in Turkey, the U.S. and the U.K and holds more than 20 literature awards. Her personal and academic background reflect throughout her novels, where fiction and realities, such as religious taboos, women’s empowerment, migration and stereotypes, are combined.
The Power of Words
However, her words have taken the author to face accusations by the Turkish government. The characters of her book The Bastard of Istanbul were put on trial under Article 301, the criminal code for “insulting Turkishness”. This was an interesting case for advocates for the right to free speech and freedom of opinion.
Shafak writes cultural and political articles for The Guardian, The Financial Times, the BBC, The Huffington Post, among others.
The novelist is also known for one of her most famous TED talks, in which the author refers to writing as ‘a path to freedom and protest’, but, even she, as a person who describes herself as bisexual, did not find the courage for many years to express her sexuality in public, because of her fear of judgement and prejudices.
40 Rules of Love
If you are a lover of alternative stories coming together, that immerse in romance and Islamic poetry, ’40 rules of love’ is a must-read book. This is one of the main novels Shafak has written, in which she tells two stories. The first story revolves around Ella Rubinstein, an editor and housewife living in Northampton and Aziz Zahara, an adventurous and sufi writer, based in Amsterdam. The second story is a story from Aziz’s novel, Sweet Blasphemy’, that describes the journey of the spiritual leader, Shams of Tabriz, who meets Rumi, the most famous Islamic poet. This part of the book takes us on a trip to Anatolia in the year 1252, in times where the Crusades, the Mongol Empire and diverse religious conflicts and chaos threaten the region. This is the reason why the teachings of Shams and Rumi became highly important.
Shafak brings parts of Rumi’s most famous poems and Sham’s spiritual lessons throughout the novel, to present a broad understanding of love. In each chapter there are lessons on how love appears in daily situations. We face love in all kinds of situations, going from a romantic relationship and the love relation we have with our family, the kindness we feel when we meet strangers and the poor to the love and peace we find in nature.
The novel reminds us how to recognize a form of love in these encounters and makes us realize the lack of understanding and empathy nowadays. The novel is definitely full of compassion, mysticism, spirituality, friendship, romance and history. And just as in the context of the 13th Century, we live in times when we urgently need the rules of love.