Elif Shafak's New Book Reviewed

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak's new novel, The Forty Rules of Love, takes us into the life of a middle-aged Jewish woman from central Massachusetts, who as a reader for a literary agent, has just picked up a copy of a novel by a modern Sufi mystic.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Not a lot of writers translate their own books, but Turkish novelist Elif Shafak writes Turkish and English versions of her novels. Her latest book is called "The Forty Rules of Love." It's about a middle-aged, Jewish woman who picks up a copy of a novel by a modern Islamic mystic.

Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE: For Ella Rubenstein, this 40-year-old wife and mother mired in depression who sees her life as stale and wasted, the book within the book turns out to be a big flood line on the road ahead. "Sweet Blasphemy," this book is called. It gives us the story of Shams, the 13th-century Sufi mystic, the wild man of Islam.

Shams travels to Turkey to befriend Rumi, one of the great poets of the Middle Ages. This friendship turns Rumi's life upside down and eventually brings about Shams' own murder. Over the course of a few weeks in June, reading their story turns Ella's life into glorious confusion, and she eventually comes up with a plan to change it all for the better.

Now, you can see this coming a mile away, but when it happens you want to stand up and cheer, maybe tear up a bit, too, because of the way things turn out.

Here's a middle-aged love story and the inside story of one of history's great friendships, and on top of all that, the story of the battle within medieval Islam between the conservatives and the Sufis.

"The Forty Rules of Love" is a little kitschy at times, but that's part of the fun of it. Laugh, cry, tear your hair out as you learn.

SIEGEL: "The Forty Rules of Love," by Elif Shafak. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

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