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

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

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (Dec 26 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553383108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553383102
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #65,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 5 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
That Tahir Shah decided to uproot his family and move to Casablanca from London is not all that surprising. Nor was his idea to buy and put in much needed renovations to the Caliph's House. That he did not go completely insane as the task(s) unfolded, unraveled, did entire 360s and still was able to come up with a readable prose is amazing.

The guy can flatout write and knows where to stop. He never drags a single thought out nor runs it into th ground. The man either has a great sense of editing or he just knows how to shift gears as seamlessly as an F-1 race car driver even within chapters.

Of course, it's a look inside the Moroccan, and subsequently the Islamic, world at a time in world history when Muslims are under the microscope. Definitely worth reading just to shatter the stereotype of the "Muslim as terrorist" jag that permeates much of the neocon narrow minded thinking on the subject.

That aside I would have liked a few "before, during and after" pictures of the house in question given the yearlong unintentionally hilarious construction site it became. Visual imaginary is fine but other than a glimpse via the book cover, how those wondrous tiles looked in their glorious full color would have been the icing on the cake that this fine book is.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 112 reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Culture Shock and Comedy April 16 2006
By Bart King - Published on
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!
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Exotic and charming April 7 2006
By Sarah - Published on
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.

The cast of characters is immensely entertaining, serving to outline the contrasts in modern Morocco: a French countess who was a friend of Shah's grandfather, a pessimistic French diplomat, an elderly stamp collector who trades stamps for stories, three guardians who come with the house but end up causing nothing but headaches, a local gangster and his trophy wife, and the servants that Shah hires to attempt to add rule and order back to his life, but who quickly teach him that to accomplish anything, he needs to think like a true Moroccan.

Unlike the myriad of home restoration shows on the BBC and HGTV, Shah's project is plagued by disaster from the beginning: a phony architect and his bungling workers knock down walls with glee, Shah's black market sand provider is jailed on prostitution charges, his mail-order furniture from India (ordered after several glasses of wine)and personal library of 10,000 books is held hostage by Moroccan customs, and the supposed haunting by Jinns is enough to nearly drive Shah and family from Dar Khalifa, but cooler heads and a new cultural awakening prevails. Shah learns to admire the wealth of cultural traditions that guide Morocco, reconnects with his famous grandfather, who spent the last years of his life in Casablanca, and finds the journey ultimately rewarding.

Full of sharp humour, eagle-eyed observations gleaned from a lifetime of travels, and an eye for beauty, "The Caliph's House" is a delightful, exotic journey into the cultural heart of Morocco, full of whispering fountains, lush secret gardens, the glitter of glazed tile mosaics, the muezzin's chant, and the call of the unknown.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Great Fun! Great Adventure! April 10 2006
By Nancy Walter - Published on
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!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
From Apprentice to Master March 12 2006
By D. Wood - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In "The Caliph's House", Tahir Shah shows us that he

has graduated from a Sorcerer's Apprentice to a master

alchemist. Wanting to transform his life for his

young family, Shah leaves his crapped apartment in the

cold and wet London for a large but forlorn palace in

the warm and sunny Casablanca. Once there he begins

the arduous task of transforming lead into gold.

Anyone familiar with Shah's other books knows that he

seeks challenges where success is far from guaranteed.

This formula brings interesting and down right

hilarious adventures which begin the very first night.

From beginning to end Shah weaves a magical spell. A

good book nourishes the soul the way a good meal

nourishes the body. "The Caliph's House" is a feast

-- Bon Appetite.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Great Read! Feb. 27 2006
By Book Lover - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book. In fact, I just ordered four of Shah's other books from Amazon. "The Caliph's House" was hilarious in parts, sobering in others (after reading it I don't think I will ever live in Morocco), and insightful on many of the differences between the Western/Christian and Middle Eastern/Muslim perspective. I love to travel and enjoy restoring old houses so the subject matter was well suited to my interests, but more than that, I feel I gained perhaps a glimpse into the Muslim way of thinking about their religion, family, relationships, business and beliefs. It is a fun read, well written and highly entertaining. I look forward to reading Shah's other books and have already loaned "The Caliph's House" to a friend.

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