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Reflections of an Innovation Teacher – Part One
Story within a story
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Drinking: A Love Story Summary & Study Guide Description
That life is under our control is an illusion -- that's what Daniel, the main character of this beautifully-written and poetic novella, believes as he faces the grim task of attending his wife's funeral. Dennis Waller describes Daniel at that moment , as: "drowning in despair, he wanted to run, just get out of there and not face the yawning emptiness that awaited him. The first few pages show us Daniel's love for his wife, love that feels like it could overcome the boundaries of time, space and transcend death.
Married with two children, Elif divides her time between London and Istanbul. What prompted you to write a novel centered on the relationship between Rumi and his beloved teacher Shams of Tabriz? My starting point, as simple as it sounds, was the concept of love. I wanted to write a novel on love but from a spiritual angle. Once you make that your wish the path takes you to Rumi, the voice of love. His poetry and philosophy have always inspired me.
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His words speak to us across centuries, cultures. One can never finish reading him; it is an endless journey. Why did you decide to make The Forty Rules of Love such a polyphonic novel, using so many different narrators? The truth of fiction is not a fixed thing. If anything, it is more fluid than solid. It changes depending on each person, each character. Literature, unlike daily politics, recognizes the significance of ambiguity, plurality, flexibility.
Interestingly, this artistic approach is also in harmony with Sufi philosophy. Sufis, like artists, live in an ever-fluid world. They believe one should never be too sure of himself and they respect the amazing diversity in the universe.
So it was very important to me to reflect that variety as I was writing my story. What kind of research did you do for the novel? How much imaginative license did you take with the historical facts? When you write about historical figures you feel somewhat intimidated at the beginning. It is not like writing about imaginary characters. So to get the facts right, I did a lot of research. It is not a new subject to me. So there was some background.
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However, after a period of intense reading and researching, I stopped doing that and solely concentrated in my story. I allowed the characters to guide me. In my experience the more we, as writers, try to control our characters, the more lifeless they become. By the same token, the less there is of the ego of the writer in the process of writing, the more alive the fictional characters and the more creative the story.
What are the challenges of writing about such a well-known and revered figure like Rumi? Do you feel you succeeded remaining true to the historical Rumi while bringing him fully into the imaginative realm of your novel? It was a big challenge, I must say. On the one hand I have huge respect for both Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. So it was important to me to hear their voices, to understand their legacy as best as I could. Yet on the other hand, I am a writer. I do not believe in heroes. In literature, there are no perfect heroes.
Every person is a microcosm with many sides and conflicting aspects. So it was essential for me to see them as human beings, without putting them up on a pedestal. Writing this novel changed me perhaps in more ways than I can understand or explain. Every book changes us to a certain extent.
Some books more so than others. They transform their readers, and they also transform their writers. This was one of those books for me. When I finished it I was not the same person I was at the beginning. Much of the novel concerns the position of women both in the medieval Islamic world and in contemporary Western society. What is your sense of how women are faring in the Middle East today compared to women in Western cultures? We tend to think that as human beings we have made amazing progress throughout the centuries.
And we like to think that the women in the West are emancipated whereas women in the East are oppressed all the time. It is true that we have made progress but in some other ways we are not as different from the people of the past as we like to think. Also there are so many things in common between the women in the East and the women in the West.
Patriarchy is universal. It is not solely the problem of some women in some parts of the world. Basically, as I was writing this novel I wanted to connect people, places, stories—to show the connections, some obvious, some much more subtle. How would you explain the extraordinary popularity of Rumi in the West right now?
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What is it about his poetry—and his spirituality—that readers find so engaging? It is a very inclusive, embracing, universal voice that puts love at its center. No one is excluded from that circle of love. What aspects of Sufism do you find most appealing and relevant to contemporary life? Do you have a sense that the mystical strands of Islam—represented by Shams of Tabriz in the novel—are beginning to balance out the more fundamentalist views—represented by the Zealot—in contemporary Islamic cultures?
Mysticism and poetry have always been important elements in Islamic cultures. This has been the case throughout the centuries. The Muslim world is not composed of a single color. And it is not static at all.
It is a tapestry of multiple colors and patterns. Sufism is not an ancient, bygone heritage. It is a living, breathing philosophy of life. It is applicable to the modern day. It teaches us to look within and transform ourselves, to diminish our egos.