Like In Kate Mosse’s “Labyrinth” here we have two parallel narratives—one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century. But the thirteenth century thread is set in Konya not Carcassonne. In the present we have Ella, an unfulfilled Jewish housewife in Northampton, Massachussetts, who is working part time for a literary agency. She is given a manuscript to read “Sweet Blasphemy“, where we find our 13th century narrative. “Sweet Blasphemy” is about the relationship between the famous poet, Rumi and the Sufi Dervish, Shams of Tabriz.
The contemporary story is told through Ella, who starts an intimate correspondence with the writer, Aziz Z. Zahara, a sufi, strangely of Scottish origin.
Like with Labyrinth, I found the 13th century narrative more compelling and almost resented, when it jumped to the present parallel narrative. Shafak tells the story of Rumi and Shams through many different narrators: Rumi’s family who are not happy with the arrival of Shams, and various townsfolk affected by Shams, the harlot, the beggar, the drunk, the zealot etc…
Shams is like a Paulo Coelho character bringing wisdom and forcing changes upon those around him especially his host, Rumi. Shams has a strong uncompromising personality, causing many to hate him. There is a Christ like dimension to Shams, he has seen his days are limited and wants to impart his wisdom, these forty rules of love, before his inevitable end. There is a conflict between Sufism, a religion of the heart and the strict sharia laws of the head. Shams meeting the zealots is like Jesus meeting the Pharisees.
It is an engaging and entertaining book. There are many parallels between the religious conflicts of thirteenth century Turkey and our own time.
My rating 4.5 out of 5