The caliph's house

Tahir Shah

Book - 2006

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Subjects
Published
New York : Bantam Books 2006.
Language
English
Item Description
"A year in Casablanca"--Cover.
Physical Description
349 p. : ill
ISBN
0553803999
Main Author
Tahir Shah (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Afghan writer Shah uproots his family from the comforts of London and moves to Casablanca. There he purchases not just any house but the abandoned residence of the caliph. Undeterred by suicide bombers, jinns, and innumerable job applicants, Shah installs his family in the decrepit house and begins to restore its walls, its gardens, and its fountains. Reconstructing the house immerses Shah in Moroccan everyday life. He has to deal with plagues of rats, swarms of bees, and the ever-threatening prospect of organized crime. Shah's picture of Moroccan society, its deeply held Islamic faith, its primitive superstition, and its raucous economy makes for endlessly fascinating reading. Particularly telling is his encounter with the realities of Ramadan, which seems to bring out both the best and worst in people's characters. Shah is cautious not to judge a society different from Western expectations, and he never makes fun of the odd characters who pepper his narrative. Shah's own heritage as both Afghan and Briton blesses him with a unique and penetrating point of view. ((Reviewed January 1 & 15, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

After exotic journeys to India, Africa, and South America, English travel writer Shah decided to settle down with his family in Casablanca in a century-old mansion known as "Dar Khalifa." But Shah's adventurous life was far from over: he soon began receiving threats from his gangster neighbor, became involved in black-market dealings, and founds himself caught up in a demonic ritual. This is nothing, though, compared with the trouble he found himself in when he began major renovations to his house. Welcome to the Moroccan world of chaos! Unsure whether to laugh or cry, Shah discovered that Moroccan workers are haunted by a deep-seated fear of the underworld and have what could best be described as an eccentric work ethic. Admirably, Shah displays considerable tolerance and respect for Moroccan traditions, even as they come in conflict with his English upbringing. Following in the footsteps of Bill Bryson and Peter Mayle, Shah recollects his real-life experiences with candor and humor. While at times his adventures seem almost too bizarre to be true, the colorful people Shah encounters will certainly entertain armchair travelers. Recommended for public libraries.--Victor Or, Vancouver & Surrey P.L., B.C. [Page 141]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

When Shah, his pregnant wife and their small daughter move from England to Morocco, where he'd vacationed as a child, he enters a realm of "invisible spirits and their parallel world." Shah buys the Caliph's House, once a palatial compound, now heavy with algae, cobwebs and termites. Unoccupied for a decade, the place harbors a willful jinni (invisible spirit), who Shah, the rational Westerner, reluctantly grasps must be exorcised by traditional means. As Shah remodels the haunted house, he encounters a cast of entertaining, sometimes bizarre characters. Three retainers, whose lives are governed by the jinni, have attached themselves to the property. Confounding craftsmen plague but eventually beautify the house. Intriguing servants come and go, notably Zohra, whose imaginary friend, a 100-foot tall jinni, lives on her shoulder. A "gangster neighbor and his trophy wife" conspire to acquire the Caliph's House, and a countess remembers Shah's grandfather and his secrets. Passers-through offer eccentricity (Kenny, visiting 15 cities on five continents where Casablanca is playing; Pete, a convert to Islam, seeking "a world without America"). There is a thin, dark post-9/11 thread in Shah's elegantly woven tale. The dominant colors, however, are luminous. "[L]ife not filled with severe learning curves was no life at all," Shah observes. Trailing Shah through his is sheer delight. Illus. (Jan.) [Page 42]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An English travel writer and author of Sorcerer's Apprentice describes his and his family's experiences after purchasing a rundown palace in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, as they work to renovate the house, exorcise the jinns--mischievous invisible spirits--haunting the structure, and cope with the house's human guardians. 40,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Describes the author's and his family's experiences after purchasing a run-down palace in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, as they work to renovate the house, exorcise the jinns haunting the structure, and cope with the house's human guardians.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

When Tahir Shah decided to follow his dream of buying and restoring a vast crumbling ruin of a palace in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, he soon learned that he and his family had bought a great deal more than they'd bargained for. For one thing, Dar Khalifa, or the Caliph's House, came equipped with three guardians inherited from the previous owner. But that wasn't all. In Morocco, an empty house attracts jinns - invisible, often mischievous, sometimes malign spirits - and Dark Khalifa seemed to have attracted more than its fair share.In The Caliph's House, Shah tells the story of his family's first year in Casablanca, of their tumultuous time learning Moroccan ways, renovating the house, and exorcizing its jinns. Shah's search for the craftsmen, artisans and array of other people and things needed to put the house in order leads him out into this exotic, mysterious kingdom, to Tangier, Fez, Marrakech, the High Atlas mountains and the Sahara. It also sends him on another journey - in the footsteps of a grandfather he never really knew.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

In the tradition of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge–and nothing is as easy as it seems….Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he and his wife, Rachana, had, Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph, or spiritual leader.With its lush grounds, cool, secluded courtyards, and relaxed pace, life at Dar Khalifa seems sure to fulfill Tahir’s fantasy–until he discovers that in many ways he is farther from home than he imagined. For in Morocco an empty house is thought to attract jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world. The ardent belief in their presence greatly hampers sleep and renovation plans, but that is just the beginning. From elaborate exorcism rituals involving sacrificial goats to dealing with gangster neighbors intent on stealing their property, the Shahs must cope with a new culture and all that comes with it. Endlessly enthralling, The Caliph’s House charts a year in the life of one family who takes a tremendous gamble. As we follow Tahir on his travels throughout the kingdom, from Tangier to Marrakech to the Sahara, we discover a world of fierce contrasts that any true adventurer would be thrilled to call home.