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A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco Paperback – November 11, 2008


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A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco + The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca + In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (November 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416578935
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416578932
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Beware of falling in love while on vacation. You might end up buying a riad. Less of a tourist center than Marrakesh or Tangier, Fez is the largest car-free urban area and the best-preserved medieval walled city in the world. While on vacation, Australian photojournalist Clarke and her husband were bewitched by the exotic city, deciding to return and begin a search for a riad (a large home with an inner courtyard) to renovate. This enjoyable narrative chronicles the couple's navigation through a puzzling new world. Readers get to tag along while Clarke deals with Kafkaesque bureaucracy, maneuvers delicately through relationships with neighbors, contractors and construction workers, and goes back to school to improve her French. She weaves this personal narrative together with snippets of the fascinating history and culture of her adopted country. This is an all too brief but enjoyable excursion into one woman's experience with a place she clearly loves. Readers will surely fall under its spell as well.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Born in New Zealand, Suzanna Clarke grew up in several parts of Australia. In her twenties she lived in a Welsh commune, an Amsterdam squat and a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. She has worked as a photojournalist for more than two decades and is the arts director of The Daily Mail in Brisbane. Her husband, Sandy, is a radio broadcaster who now spends most of his time in Fez. Their blog is riadzany.blogspot.com.

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Customer Reviews

In addition, her web site, The View From Fez, is a great resource for anyone interested in the city.
Marjory Singher
I love reading about their experience living in these countries as I am always curious about what life is like in other countries.
L. A. Vitale
Interesting perspective of a woman and her husband who decide to purchase and renovate an old riad house in Fez.
Dr_PhysBabe

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By shiite7 on December 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm going to be in Morocco soon, serving in the Peace Corps, and read The Caliph's House, by Tahir Shan, before this (which I would rate as maybe 4 or 4.5 stars) - this I would give a 3.5/5.

There were paragraphs/sections I particularly enjoyed - whether because of marked wit or charm, or interesting historical insights of which I was not aware.

The book started off well, with quotes like, "Morocco has the mystique of a land from the Old Testament yet appears to be coping comfortably with modernization. Internet cafes rub shoulders with artisans' workshops; peasants on donkeys trot beneath billboards advertising the latest mobile phones", "it was a country where we felt more alive than anywhere else, our every sense engaged", "you looked the farmer or the stallholder in the eye as you quibbled in a good-natured way about the quality and price."

I was hoping of more of the same.

Unfortunately, after the first two chapters or so, the book veered off (and decidedly so) into a tome on building materials and house/kitchen renovation...at least 60% (being conservative) of the book is very detailed tidbits about building supplies and how the kitchen tiles were put in, just like so...for the first half of the book, this level of detail was something I forgave, in the hope that something "really good" was coming as a replacement for this "filler". But alas, most of the book is indeed minute detail about project work.

If you're interested in renovating a run-down "mansion" in Morocco, this may be of particular interest to you...but first read The Caliph's House, which seemed to have more characters, more anecdotes, more lasting humor. If you're interested in learning more about Moroccan culture, this offers mere glimpses. If you want a broader picture, I highly recommend CultureShock Morocco, by Orin Hargraves.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By jibli on June 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
i was very pleased with this book.
Suzanna Clarke and her husband bought a house in the medina of Fez and this is the story of the renovation project and those involved- architects, workmen, bureaucrats and neighbors.
she gives us her experiences with a freshness that will charm even those who know the country well. although she had little prior knowledge of morocco, there are only afew errors (some details about Islam-ramadan, cats).
the book that "A House In Fez" most resembles is Peter Mayne's "A Year in Marrakesh" (also titled "The Alleys of Marrakesh") A Year in Marrakesh, especially for its light tone (no long lectures on history, politics or architecture here).
Peter Mayne was injured in an attack on a cafe in the events leading up to Morocco's independence (1956) and he only wrote the one book (in print!) about this country. We can only hope that the author and her husband, Sandy McCutcheon, also a writer, will enjoy many years of residence and give us updates, not only in their popular blog, but also with future books.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C. Scharven on April 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
I have lived in and visited the Muslim world for almost 20 years now and enjoyed every bit of this book. It really captured how wonderful the people can be, and yet how frustrating things can also be...for those who are still on "Western" time. From being concerned about overpaying, to trusting your neighbors, to the "fun" of trying to work with "City Hall"...the book is spot on. But not to dwell on the difficult times, but the author also dives into the warmth of the local people, which is the best part of the book to me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By L. A. Vitale on January 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
I always find it courageous when other people decide to move to another country far away from their home country, where the language, the culture and major religion are so different from their own. I love reading about their experience living in these countries as I am always curious about what life is like in other countries. Clarke's book "A House in Fez" provides a wonderful glimpse as to what it is like as a foreigner from western culture to live in Morocco.

Clarke's writing is captivating and it draws you in from the start of her journey to move and live in Morocco. Clarke discusses how she and her husband come to decide to live in Fez, Morocco... Along with the process of buying and renovating their very own riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard)... And believe me the purchasing and renovating of their new home is quite an adventure and a test of patience if you live in a country where the home buying and renovating process are different from how things are handled back home. But that's part of the adventure right? What I admire most is that Clarke and her husband use traditional craftsmen to restore their riad to its former glory.

It is also fun to learn about all the people Clarke meets and becomes friends with along the way, plus learn about the various customs and culture of Morocco like Ramadan, the circumcision process, Sufi ceremonies, about the belief in djinn and so much more.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeannie Mancini VINE VOICE on November 2, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Suzanna Clarke's memoir entitled A House in Fez: Building A Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco, is not just the story of her restoring a three hundred year old house. I found her tale to be a delightful and insightful book about everything and everyone that is Morocco. The book is a very engaging introductory to Morocco's culture, complete with a magical blend of tidbits on the people, the place, and of times past, present and future. You will learn about the loveable people who are humorous, giving, and helpful, yet often frustrating when assisting Suzanna with her plan. The pace of Morocco as in most of the Middle East, is a tad slower than of the western world, every little project and chore can take a very long time to accomplish all at the will of Allah.

Suzanna and her husband Sandy, native New Zealander's, had traveled to Morocco a few times for vacation. They fell in love with this quaint and historic corner of the world and decided they wanted to buy a second home there. Traveling back and forth between countries, they soon found a gorgeous, yet run down, three century old riad, (a traditional Morocco house with central fountain enclosed courtyard) that they just had to have, even though they realized this would be the biggest challenge of their lives. Restoring an ancient house of this historic caliber is not cheap. They knew it would drain their budgets, and that the task would take a lot of their time. They are both busy journalists and this monumental project would take creative juggling of their careers.
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