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The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca Paperback – December 26, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (December 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553383108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553383102
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

In the March 2006 issue of The Atlantic, Terry Castle faced his addiction to the shelter magazines and furnishings catalogues that drive the "billion dollar business of home improvement." These same addicts put books like Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence and Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun atop the best seller lists. Travel writer Tahir Shah (In Search of King Solomon's Mines; Sorcerer's Apprentice) possesses the same idealistic (and some critics say naïve) pursuit of greener grass through domestic upheaval. While critics compare his book with the aforementioned classics of the genre, it is Shah's dark humor and skillful depiction of Casablanca that distinguish The Caliph's House. Though less intrepid souls might not care to live there, reviewers insist a few nights at Dar Khalifa in the company of such a talented writer is time well spent.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

All this with such humor I found myself laughing out loud.
Jo Irwin
The Caliph's House is a sensitive, gentle book, revealing Shah's dream of renovating a rambling, haunted Moroccan home.
TAHIR SHAH
Its a hoot and gives a fascinating insight to this unique old country and culture.
Alan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Bart King on April 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a very funny and readable account of Tahir Shah's ordeals trying to remodel a decrepit palace in Casablanca. In some ways, Shah's account reads like a man's Moroccan version of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN. It's less romantic and food-oriented, but references the similar nightmares and pleasures involved with restoring an ancient dwelling.

This book is VERY funny. Tahir Shah is an Englshman of Afghani descent, so Morocco really is a culture shock for him. The odd and "backwards" aspects of trying to get things done in Morocco are amusing and educational. For instance, Shah ends up having to have the house exorcised for jinni (genies) and even having to take a second wife (it's not what you might think) to finish the project.

Looking at the other reader reviews below, it's clear that I'm not the only one with a high opinion of THE CALIPH'S HOUSE. Trust us!
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Bundtlust TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found out about Tahir Shah's "The Caliph's House" in an issue of the International Herald Tribune. Although I've lived in Spain, speak French, and have many friends from Northern Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco), I've not yet had the pleasure of visiting Morocco, where Tahir Shah moved his wife Rachana and children to escape the stale, boring life of London.

Raised by an Afghan father on tribal legends and childhood treks through the Atlas Mountains, Shah is drawn by the sense of exotic beauty and deep-seated cultural values of Morocco, enough so that he purchases a run-down estate in a shantytown. The Caliph's House is filled with traces by bygone beauty: secret gardens in inner courtyards, mysterious locked rooms, and unlimited potential for restoration: the beautiful bejmat mosaics and fountains that Islamic art has been famous for for centuries, carved cedar shelves, grand doors.

Shah quickly realizes that despite its French appearance and legacy, Casablanca is purely North African, governed by age-old ritual and superstition: Jinns that rule his new home and cause accidents and deaths, workmen that never finish a single project, the constant headache of bargaining for every item needed for restoration, living next to seething slums where Arab Gulf Al-Qaeda members are recruiting in the local mosque.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Missana on April 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Caliph's House is my favorite book by Tahir Shah so far. As enjoyable as its predecessors, it takes the usual features of Shah's work -surreal adventures, humor, lack of self-consciousness, endurance of obstacles, extravagant characters, revelatory moments- to a higher level of complexity. Shah weaves his tale in an intricate-yet-seamless pattern of interconnected stories, echoing the reconstruction process of the house itself. Some of the smaller stories, particularly the ones involving non-linear problem solving, have an old or timeless feeling to them; they seem to have come out of a folk-tale collection. The book manages to convey a great deal of knowledge about Morocco, while touching on issues such as religious fanaticism or the narrowness of Western life ("the cycle of zombie commuting and pseudo-friends"). Above all, The Caliph's House is about dealing with a different and unknown culture. What the reader encounters is not standardized tourism or paranoid confrontation or a platitude-laden celebration of multiculturalism, but something subtler and richer (and more fun). There is much to learn from Tahir Shah's attitude: a mixture of respect, flexibility, humor, trust and sheer stubbornness.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Unlike books that make you feel you have visited a place, reading THE CALIPH'S HOUSE is like being there. Besides the Moroccans and their jinns, you meet Americans, you flashback to Britain, then get into the seamy side of Ramadan. It's like what really happens when you visit a strange country and get off the beaten track--far from what the programmed tourist agent or the propagandist ever shows you. I like Tahir Shah. His book comes off like going on an adventure with a good friend.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Davis on June 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't put this book down. My husband is Moroccan and I've spent a lot of time with in his family home there. I could relate to a lot of Shah's descriptions, based on my own and friends' experiences. Shah's writing is wonderful, funny and not at all condescending like other "live abroad" books.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Walter on April 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry! (Bet Tahir felt the same way!)

What can I say. I felt like I was back in Morocco living through what must have seemed like hell some days... but Mr. Shah took it all in stride! I have to hand it to him... he is a very patient man. The personal rewards of undertaking such a huge project and over seeing so many workers, who speak a foreign tongue, would have driven most people around the bend. But instead, Tahir Shah made this journey a rich adventure, not only for himself, but for the reader. I've spent quite some time in Morocco and have had my share of friends from there, but I have never read about these people written in such a wonderful and loving way. With all their crazy beliefs, customs and ways of life, they are the most generous and alive people I have ever met. Bravo to Tahir for writing such a real and honest account of these people and himself!
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More About the Author

Tahir Shah is the author of fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia and the Americas. For him, there's nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dusty café and observe life go by. Insisting that we can all be explorers, he says there's wonderment to be found wherever we are - it's just a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes.

In the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights, Shah's first 2013 release, SCORPION SOUP, is a treasury of nested tales. One linking effortlessly into the next, the stories form a cornucopia of lore and values, the kind that has for centuries shaped the cultural landscape of the East. Amusing, poignant, and thoroughly entertaining, the collection stays with you, conjuring a magic all of its own.

Shah's 2012 novel, TIMBUCTOO, is inspired by a true life tale from two centuries ago. The story of the first Christian to venture to Timbuctoo and back - a young illiterate American sailor - it has been an obsession since Shah discovered it in the bowels of the London Library twenty years ago.

His 2011 collection entitled TRAVELS WITH MYSELF is a body of work as varied and as any, with reportage pieces as diverse as the women on America's Death Row, to the trials and tribulations of his encounter in a Pakistani torture jail.

Another recent work, IN ARABIAN NIGHTS, looks at how stories are used in cultures such as Morocco, as a matrix by which information, values and ideas are passed on from one generation to the next. That book follows on the heels of the celebrated CALIPH'S HOUSE: A Year in Casablanca, lauded as one of Time Magazine's Top 10 Books of the year.

His other works include an epic quest through Peru's cloud forest for the greatest lost city of the Incas (HOUSE OF THE TIGER KING), as well as a journey through Ethiopia in search of the source of King Solomon's gold (IN SEARCH OF KING SOLOMON'S MINES). Previous to that, Shah published an account of a journey through the Amazon on the trail of the Birdmen of the Amazon (TRAIL OF FEATHERS), as well as a book of his experiences in India, as a godman's pupil (SORCERER'S APPRENTICE).

Tahir Shah's books have appeared in thirty languages and in more than seventy editions. They are celebrated for their original viewpoint, and for combining hardship with vivid description.

He also makes documentary films, which are shown worldwide on National Geographical Television, and The History Channel. The latest, LOST TREASURE OF AFGHANISTAN, has been screened on British TV and shown worldwide. While researching the programme Shah was arrested along with his film crew and incarcerated in a Pakistani torture jail, where they spent sixteen terrifying days and nights.

His other documentaries include: HOUSE OF THE TIGER KING, SEARCH FOR THE LOST CITY OF GOLD, and THE SEARCH FOR KING SOLOMON'S MINES. And, in addition to documentaries, Shah writes for the big screen. His best known work in this genre is the award-winning Imax feature JOURNEY TO MECCA, telling the tale of the fourteenth century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta's first pilgrimage to Mecca.

Tahir Shah lives at Dar Khalifa, a sprawling mansion set squarely in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown. He's married to the graphic designer, Rachana Shah, and has two children, Ariane and Timur. His father was the Sufi writer, Idries Shah.

www.tahirshah.com
www.twitter.com/humanstew
www.facebook.com/TahirShahAuthor
http://www.youtube.com/user/tahirshah999
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