Shafak should have dropped Ella’s story, with its preachy spiritual ruminations, and stuck to Rumi’s odyssey, which opens a...

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THE FORTY RULES OF LOVE

The bestselling, controversial Turkish author (Bastard of Istanbul, 2007, etc.) enfolds a historical narrative about a Sufi poet within the contemporary tale of a discontented Massachusetts housewife.

With her daughter in college and her twins in high school, Ella Rubinstein has gone back to work as a reader for a Boston literary agent. She accepts the lack of passion in her marriage to a philandering dentist—this unfortunate stereotype is typical of Shafak’s tin ear where Americans are concerned—until her first reading assignment forces her to reexamine her complacency. It’s a manuscript entitled Sweet Blasphemy, which describes the 13th-century friendship between Rumi, a respected Muslim scholar, and Shams, a wandering dervish who became his soul mate. Soon Ella is carrying on an e-mail correspondence of growing intensity with the manuscript’s author, Craig, a Scot who found Sufism after a long period of personal crisis. Craig and Ella are soul mates too, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s cute. It’s hard to care about Ella, who considers her younger daughter’s eating disorder a distraction from her pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. The energy, complexity and empathy found in Shafak’s previous work are evident only in the sections of the text devoted to Rumi. He suffers humiliations from Shams, a gifted mystic but far from perfect human being who cuts him off from his family and followers, but Rumi appreciates the deeper meaning behind the tests Shams sets for him. When Shams is murdered with the help of Rumi’s jealous son, Rumi’s grief blossoms into great poetry still beloved today. In the parallel present, Ella leaves her family to follow Craig to Turkey, knowing he has terminal cancer. His death only deepens her commitment to her personal quest, and she heads to Amsterdam, where he had lived. After all, the kids can always visit.

Shafak should have dropped Ella’s story, with its preachy spiritual ruminations, and stuck to Rumi’s odyssey, which opens a window into a world Westerners know little about.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02145-1

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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