An American housewife is transformed by an intriguing manuscript about the Sufi mystic poet Rumi
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.
From Publishers WeeklyCelebrated Turkish novelist Shafak (The Bastard of Istanbul) serves up a curious blend of mediocre hen lit and epic historical to underwhelming results. In present-day Boston, dull suburban mother and cheated-on wife Ella Rubinstein takes a job as a reader for a literary agent and becomes entranced by Aziz Zahara, the author of a manuscript about the relationship between 13th-century poet Rumi and Sufi mystic Shams that, for better or for worse, becomes a story-within-a-story. Aziz and Ella strike up an e-mail relationship, largely made up of Ella's midlife crisis and Aziz's philosophical replies. Meanwhile, Aziz's novel, Sweet Blasphemy, is occasionally interesting but mostly dull, weighed down by Rufi's and Shams's theological musings. Its better moments concern tangential characters; Rumi's son, Aladdin, who is resentful of his father's closeness to the mystic, and Rumi's adopted daughter, Kimya, whose doomed marriage to Shams is touching in a way Ella's failed relationship with her husband never manages. The rumblings against Shams reach a peak, and Ella and Aziz finally meet, tying the story lines together into a readable, if not enthralling, tale. (Feb.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From BooklistStarred Review As in her previous book, The Bastard of Istanbul (2007), Shafak, a courageous, best-selling Turkish writer, boldly links East and West in converging narratives. In present-day Massachusetts, Ella, an unhappy housewife on the cusp of 40, begins reading manuscripts for a literary agency, and soon finds herself exchanging personal e-mails with Aziz Zahara, a wandering Sufi photographer and the author of Ella’s first assignment, an enthralling novel titled Sweet Blasphemy. It fictionalizes the true story of the esteemed thirteenth-century Muslim teacher Rumi, who undergoes a profound transformation when the wandering dervish Shams of Tabriz, a renegade of strange and unnerving powers, comes to town. The two become inseparable, and as Shams shares the liberating “forty rules of love,” Rumi becomes a rebel mystic, the inventor of the “ecstatic dance” of the whirling dervishes, and a fervent and cherished poet. Under Aziz’s influence, Ella also breaks free of convention and opens herself to cosmic forces. Infused with Sufi mysticism and Rumi’s incomparable lyrics, and sweetly human in its embrace of our flaws and failings, Shafak’s seductive, shrewd, and affecting novel brilliantly revives the revelations of Shams and Rumi, and daringly illuminates the differences between religion and spirituality, censure and compassion, fear and love of life in our own violent world. --Donna Seaman