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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: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,929 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.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 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 Zoraida on December 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is an enthralling book about a double adventure-- the adventure of an Australian couple (both journalists) in buying and rebuilding a house in the Medina of Fez and, at the same time, the story of their encounter with a radically different culture, their struggles with adversity and dealing with other values and customs, and their growth as human beings who are enriched by the relations they establish in Fez. Evidently, the construction angle of the book is detailed and vast, but that is not only a relevant part that highlights the intricacy and charm of the book, but also the thread that leads to the text's opening horizon on Moroccan culture and people, including the changes in the writer's perception of this ancient North African culture. The way that the author interlaces the story of their joys and vicissitudes in rebuilding this lovely house in the Medina of Fez, even while attempting to hire and manage builders, carpenters, architects, an engineer to oversee the work, bureaucrats, and a translator, among other personages, while not speaking Arabic but only a bit of French, is fascinating. The author's adept interweaving of these stories with the history of Morocco, and of Moroccan architecture and culture, is masterfully executed. In addition, the collaborators (workers) who reconstructed the house come to life in the book as a "tranche de vie" of contemporary Morocco that makes the reader wish to get to know them better, as well as the culture that the author manages to describe so well. This is not only a voyage from Australia to Fez, Morocco; it's also a voyage in time, to a civilization that functions in a different way, where human beings depend on one another in manners that our Western vision has obliterated.Read more ›
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