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Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah

Title: The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca

Author: Tahir Shah

First Published: 2006

No. of Pages: 368

Synopsis (from B&N): "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."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: If you enjoy travel books, add this one to your list. I really enjoyed this book. It was well-written in a light, conversational tone (I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but it's so appropriate!). The author readily admits that he's often confused and frustrated by the differences in culture, but he's not arrogant or paternalistic, and he seems eager to learn from all sources. The descriptions of the people and surroundings are vivid and guaranteed to stimulate your wanderlust. The sections dealing with the house renovation are hilarious and the early scenes immediately bring to mind "The Money Pit." I wish the book had included pictures of the house, but I was able to find some on the author's website -- click on "Books," then "The Caliph's House." The author has travelled extensively and I'll be adding his other books to my TBR list.

Challenges: 999 ("Travel"); A to Z (author "S"); Orbis Terrarum 2 (Morocco); World Citizen ("Autobiography/Memoir")

2 comments:

One Swede Read said...

I've wanted to read that book for a long time, but I think I just spent an equally long time looking at all the photos at the site - amazing photography!! Thanks for posting the link!!

/Eva - fellow OT-er

Elizabeth said...

This sounds great - just the kind of thing to read when I am pining for spring!