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The Caliph's House: A Year in…

The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Tahir Shah

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5372627,551 (3.91)62
Title:The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca
Authors:Tahir Shah
Info:Bantam (2006), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:africa, memoir, Morocco

Work details

The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah (2006)

  1. 00
    Castles in the Air: The Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion by Judy Corbett (doomjesse)
  2. 00
    Marokko voor beginners by Kees Beekmans (Tinwara)
    Tinwara: Kees Beekmans, like Tahir Shah, is a foreigner reporting about his life as an immigrant in Morocco. As far as I know this book is available in Dutch only.
Africa (137)

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English (23)  Lithuanian (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Everyone has a story of an event in their lives; how they met their sparkling spouse, how they came into their fascinating occupation, how they started an odd hobby for which they are extremely passionate. The most interesting stories are the ones that are life changing; an abrupt 180 degree turn from where they used to be. A hobby turning into a business so they can quit their dead end job, for example. Tahir Shah has such a story in The Caliph's House. The London based travel writer was looking to move to Morocco. Tired of grey weather and bland food, he wanted to get back to the culture of his ancestry. After many false starts a classmate of his mother's contacted him out of the blue in 2004 with an offer he couldn't refuse: the sale of Dar Khalifa, the once home of a Caliph, a spiritual leader of Casablanca. Even though this is a story about living through a house renovation it goes beyond tiles and plumbing. Shah explores what it means to buy and restore a house in a post 911 society. Morocco struggles to be a paradise of tolerance. At the same time, Shah becomes intimately and intensely aware of "how things get done" when he hires a man of ill repute to be his right hand man. Encounters with thieves, possible murderers, even the mob are the norm. But, it is the exorcism that readers all wait for with breath held. Who in their right mind would slaughter a goat in every room of a mansion-sized abode? ( )
  SeriousGrace | Nov 13, 2018 |
During a particularly mundane time in one's life, perhaps a week or two straight with nothing but gray skies, brown grass, and rain... stuck in a blah job... who hasn't fantasized about whisking away to one's dream home in another state, country, continent. For me that's New Zealand because of *cough*Hobbiton*cough* the beautiful landscapes and cultures and wildlife.

For Tahir Shah his dream home was, far away from London, in Morocco. A place he'd only ever vacationed a few times as a child. So after searching for the perfect place, he settled on Dar Khalifa, a dilapidated mansion, in the middle of a shantytown, by the sea in Casablanca. Along with his wife, who had just given birth to their first son, and their daughter all moved to their new "dream" home and that's where their journey truly begins.

While I found Shah's story worth the read, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. Whether that's because it simply wasn't the right time for me to read this book or the fact that I found him to be, dare I say, self-indulgent in his quest to have dozens of rooms, extravagant furnishings, servants to wait on him hand and foot, a library to house over 10,000 books...

I felt particular sympathy for his wife who seemed to have to stay at home, amidst the constant "remodeling," to deal with a young daughter and a newborn baby, servants, rats, roaches, and of course the constant threat of jinns, while Tahir went out and about to relieve the stress of their new home. She even pleads with him a few times because of those very situations.

I've watched home renos on TV, many of them, even been through a couple myself, and reading about what the Shah family went through to restore Dar Khalifa was something out of a movie. Did you ever watch the 80s movie The Money Pit? Yeah like that, but in a country where everyone's goal seems to be to take what the other one has and/or abuse someone's kindness to the point of mooching off them. Maybe it was all just a huge culture shock for me and hard for me to relate because of that shock.

If nothing else, I learned a lot about Moroccan culture, customs, artistry, antiquities. The house certainly turned out beautifully.

3 stars

"With a young family of my own, I regarded it as my duty, my responsibility, to pass on the same gift to my children--a gift of cultural color. It would have been far easier to have given in and not to have made the great escape from the island's shores. But something deep inside me goaded me: a sense that if I did not seize the moment, I would regret it for the rest of my life."

"Sometimes silence with a friend is more memorable than the most animated conversation." ( )
  flying_monkeys | Mar 12, 2017 |
Shah, who is Anglo-Afghani, buys an old house in Morocco and moves his family to a new continent and a new life. The book details his cultural adventures as well as his struggles to revive and renovate the beautiful but decrepit house of his dreams. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
Thank you Dee for an intriguing rec. - not a travel book or a history, I take it. I'm excited to get it from my library.

Got it. Opened it. Already feel engaged and would not have torn myself away to write this note had I not had to get up anyway to answer the phone. Going back to it now.

Ok, done. A couple of times I got exasperated and thought I'd probably rate it low. The author doesn't analyze or follow through with his anecdotes and episodes - it's so frustrating to get such a superficial, almost 'ugly American' tour. Maybe a sequel will help - apparently he and his family still live in Casablanca. I'd like to know if his wife is as insane as he is. Sometimes we get a glimpse of her extreme joy, sometimes of her extreme frustration. Well, they are adventurers, so ok. And I do feel as if I have a tiny bit of understanding of Moroccan cultures. And it was funny - not as self-indulgent as [a:Bill Bryson|7|Bill Bryson|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1189096502p2/7.jpg] thank goodness but still very funny. I do recommend it if you're interested, but not if you want a serious/ authentic picture of Moroccan life. I am considering looking for more by this author.

eta: forgot to say there are neat sayings opening the chapters - uncredited is one I really like - If you have much, give your wealth; if you have little, give your heart."" ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |

I actually began reading this book several years ago & put it down as I didn't have the interest to finish it, but I guess "Things Change"....

In 2004, Tahir Shah, purchased a house in Casablanca, Morocco known as Dar Khalifa. It was once owned by wealthy people but had fallen into disrepair and it had the distinction of being on the border of the slums.....

Upon arriving Shah & his family came upon the "guardians" of Dar Khalifa, who of course were more than reluctant to accept the family & the changes they proposed to make to the the house & property, lest they displease Qandisha, the resident Jinn (who was eventually "exorcised").

Not one to be discouraged, Shah went ahead with the onerous project, meeting & dealing w/ more than one "difficult" party.... In the process he did meet a few friends of his grandfather's and made many new friends as well......

It amazed me, that a man of well being, who himself was from Afghanistan, allowed himself to be so cowed by the people who worked for him!

But it was an interesting book, well written and rather detailed towards the end describing the interior construction of the house. ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jan 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Although this fun book claimed to be a real account of Shah's adventure in Casablanca with a fixer upper, it soon becomes clear that he took significant journalistic license to weave a memorable story. The Moroccan preoccupation with djinns (genies) was the central character of this melodrama and through Shah's eyes, we get a comical glimpse of life in modern Morocco. I read this book with great anticipation and once I came to terms with the literary devices he used to create a fictional narrative, I enjoyed the book immensely. This is a marvelous introduction to the mosaic that makes up Maroc or Maghreb, as the locals call their wonderful country. The gist of the story is a jaded Scottish-Afghan Londoner of Persian stock married to an Indian wife with 2 young kids making a go at migrating to the former French Morocco. He purchased a dilapidated Dar (courtyard house) and spent an entire year coaxing the colorful local craftmen to redeem its former glory with varying levels of success. The last few pages was splendidly crafted to move the reader to the brink of tears as he revealed the kindness of the locals behind the adamant traditions that bind them. This telling of a personal story is reminiscent of the ancient story tellers of Israel whose accounts informed the writers of the Old Testament, where historical events were weaved into memorable vignettes and embellished to emphasize theological claims. Tahir Shah is a master story teller and I look forward to his other offerings. That a writer can bring a smile of inner joy to readers he will never meet signals the high art of the craft we call writing. Long may we treasure this most human of capabilities - the make sense of the world and transmit it through geography and history.
added by actlibrary | editAcademy for Christian Thought, Ron Choong (May 1, 2010)
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Look into the eyes of a Jinn, and / Stare into the depths of your own soul. -Moroccan Proverb
This book is for Ariane and Timur, and for their lives at the Caliph's House.
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There was a sadness in the stillness of dusk.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553383108, Paperback)

In the tradition of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:51 -0400)

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"When Tahir Shah decided to follow his dream of buying and restoring a vast crumbling ruin of a palace in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, he soon learned that he and his family had bought a great deal more than they'd bargained for. For one thing, Dar Khalifa, or the Caliph's House, came equipped with three guardians inherited from the previous owner. But that wasn't all. In Morocco, an empty house attracts jinns - invisible, often mischievous, sometimes malign spirits - and Dark Khalifa seemed to have attracted more than its fair share."."In The Caliph's House, Shah tells the story of his family's first year in Casablanca, of their tumultuous time learning Moroccan ways, renovating the house, and exorcizing its jinns. Shah's search for the craftsmen, artisans and array of other people and things needed to put the house in order leads him out into this exotic, mysterious kingdom, to Tangier, Fez, Marrakech, the High Atlas mountains and the Sahara. It also sends him on another journey - in the footsteps of a grandfather he never really knew."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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