I have been willing to read one of her books for quite sometime. This book, although very easy to read, contains words which, if you’re not familiar with Arabic and the Islam, might cause you to take a look at the footnote. If you read the physical book, it’s easier to go back and forth from the current page to the last pages that contain the explanation. It’s harder to go back and forth if you’re using e-reader to read. Although I’m familiar with the words, I’m not a Muslim and don’t know the difference between: Sufi, Shiite, Sunni, even….dervish.
It started with the life of a Jewish family Rubinsteins. Ella and David Rubinstein, their college daughter Jeannette and their teenage twins Orly and Avi. They also had a golden retriever named Spirit and they lived in Northampton, Massachusetts. Ella and David have been married for way too long that Ella didn’t know anymore whether she still loved him or has stopped loving him.
“To my dear Ella,
A woman with a quiet manner, a generous heart and the patience of a saint. Thanks for being my wife.
That’s what he’s written in a card on a valentine’s day. Reading the sentences only made Ella think that it’s supposed to be written after her death. Reading about her life, I could sense that love has seemed to vanish from her life. She filed for divorce in the fall of 2008 for a reason: love. She fell in love with someone whose life was full of adventures; He’s a traveller, a writer and a Sufi. This all started when Ella got accepted as a reviewer at a literary agency in Boston. She got her first assignment right at the moment when she just had an argument with her oldest daughter Jeannette about her marriage plan. She didn’t have the courage to read and give an extensive report on the novel she’s assigned to, but when she read the first few lines, she felt as if the author rewrote her life story.
The writer’s name was A. Z. Zahara (Aziz) who lived in the Netherlands (the book says Holland, but Holland is not a country — just one of the author’s lacks of research — to be noticed when she mentioned Indonesia as one of the countries that have seeked for asylum in Netherlands, as if there’s a war in Indonesia. This just made me think that Elif Shafak is a dreamy woman still living in a cave). The title of the book is Sweet Blasphemy. The writer has stated that he had no intention to be an author; He wrote it to show his admiration and love for the great philosopher, mystic and poet Rumi and his beloved Sun, Shams of Tabriz.
“For despite some people say, love is not only a sweet feeling bound to come and quickly go away.”
This quotation that’s written on the next line made her jaw dropped as she realised that it’s the contradiction of the exact sentence she had spoken to her daughter earlier. Ella’s touched by the sentences that Aziz had written, hence she managed to send an email to him. And he replied. From there, both of them started to email each other frequently, Ella told him her life problems and he gave her advices.
And then, the story in a story started. The foreword explained that the novel took place in 13th century, where Anatolia was in a turbulent period, where Turkish tribe tried to win Constantinople from the Byzantines. There’s an Islamic scholar named Jalal ad-Din Rumi, aka Mawlana which means our master, who had thousands of disciples and admirers. In 1244, Rumi met Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish. Rumi was then transformed from a mainstream cleric to a committed mystic, passionate poet, advocate of love and originator of ecstatic dance of whirling dervishes.
Ella found herself falling in love with Aziz that she’s willing to meet him when he was in Boston. The feeling was mutual, but Aziz had a problem. You can get to know about his problem when you read the book.
I’m not too fond of religious talks and this book, although has five parts, generally discussed about religions and love. Honestly, I only like the chapters about Ella and Aziz. But for someone who knows next to nothing about the Islam, the rest of the chapters seem unrealistic even though I know that both Rumi and Shams have ever existed. I don’t seem to be able to differentiate which parts are non-fiction and which parts are added additionally by Aziz (I’m sure that Aziz didn’t copy paste his writing from somewhere and made it a novel without adding his own story). I love the poems and the philosophical thoughts in the book, but the closeness between Rumi and Shams made me think of a gay relationship. But maybe, this was why the title of the book was Sweet Blasphemy?
Nevertheless, the book is beautifully written. If you’re a Muslim and haven’t read this book, I recommend it. Also for those who non-Muslims who know better about the Islam than I do. But for those totally stranger to this religion, I think you may get confused.