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

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3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  2,565 ratings  ·  377 reviews
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 conve...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published December 26th 2006 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2006)
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Community Reviews

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Maggie
A fascinating and often hysterically funny look at life in Morocco, through the eyes of an Afghan who was primarily raised in England, but has traveled widely. I loved the sayings which headed every chapter, such as: "Never give advice in a crowd" and "Every beetle is a gazelle in the eye of its mother." Shah was very lucky to be able to connect with his grandfather's life as well, because his grandfather had spent his last years in Morocco. Meeting those people who had known him and been touche...more
Megan
I have to confess that my opinion of this book may be swayed by my minor obsession with the following topics: Morocco; picking up and moving your life to a new and exotic locale; and refurbishing old houses with traditional techniques. Since this book is about the author's experience moving his entire family from England to Morocco, buying a villa and working with local artisans to return it to its former glory, it was right up my alley!
The author has a wonderful, strong sense of self in his to...more
Jason Goodwin
This is how I reviewed this book in The Washington Post:
From The Washington Post’s Book World

It’s been 20 years since Peter Mayle wrote his bestseller A Year in Provence, and there’s no sign yet of the “Year In…” franchise flagging. After all, what two-week vacationer could fail to dream of a year in Provence, Marrakesh or Tuscany? These are modern Mediterranean fairy tales, and they’re put together with the simplest ingredients: magical neighbors, hellish builders and much more olive oil than y...more
Stephanie
Apr 15, 2009 Stephanie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stephanie by: Rebecca
Tahir Shah has a lot of good reasons for moving to Morocco. He wants to escape England and the rat race. He wants to recapture the magic of his own childhood vacations in Morocco. He wants to learn more about the grandfather that had died there years ago. He wants a house to renovate, one that will allow his delusions of grandeur to run wild.

Shah gets all of that and more when he buys a crumbling palace, Dar Khalifa (The Caliph’s House) in Casablanca. He also gets three guardians (they come wit...more
Rebecca
i really enjoyed this book!!! the different culture and its customary responses were hilarious to see as an outsider. I really like Tahir Shah's books and will be buying this for many people on my Christmas list.

it is an easy read to pick up at any time and i am able to put it down. this is valuable for me who reads whenever i get a second and often cannot put down a book.

It is made up of short stories.
Marie
Sep 08, 2011 Marie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: fact
I have read a couple of these books were people do mjor life changes and it always amazes me how little preparation they take and how incredibly naive they are. He starts the books telling us that all his friends and family were against the move and I now agree with them. Not because of the idea of such a drastic move (from London to Casablanca) but because the guy is a bit of an idiot. For a start he makes no start on learning either French or Arabic, he signs a contract in arabic without getti...more
Christa
Another book that I don't know how to rate. It was amusing, I'll give it that. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I hadn't been living in Morocco for so long. During a lot of the book, I was thinking that the author was stupid or that he had done things that were really stupid/ naiive. Then the language thing - I guess he speaks fluent French and in Casablanca that works fine because everyone there speaks French but things were so easy for him because he always seemed to have either a...more
Jessica
Tahir Shah came across as ethnocentric and self-involved. He barreled through his adventure (read: early mid-life crisis) thinking only of himself and his money; often times mentioning an author's paltry salary, then making an ostentatious building decision for his mansion. I was also perturbed by the way in which his wife was merely a sounding board for his frustrations. Read this book if you're looking for a way to flip mansion's in Morocco while swindling the local people and dismissing their...more
bookczuk
Mar 29, 2009 bookczuk rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: elizabeth, dana
Recommended to bookczuk by: hazrabai
When hazrabai saw this on my bookshelf, she became very excited. She'd been about to order a copy for me, because she loved the book so much. What was so striking is that she said to me that this was the first book of this sort that really captured for her what it felt like to live in a foreign country. And why that was so striking is that she's lived in India since 1972. Shah takes us along as he picks his wife and two tiny children up from a life in London and, inspired by his memories of Moro...more
Synnin
The book is scenty. It scents of curcuma, ripe oranges, fresh ocean breeze, strong coffee, thick cigarette smoke, dead rats, broken drainage and donkeys. The book is loud. Loud with harsh and so unique arabic speech, crazy squeal of wheels here and there, people yelling at each other, imam calling for a prayer in the middle of the night, children playing outside.. The book is beautiful. Beautiful with dark-skinned men, women wrapped in veils, snow-white carved arabic palaces, blue mosques, dusty...more
Cheryl in CC NV
May 19, 2011 Cheryl in CC NV rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Cheryl in CC NV by: Delicious Dee the Challenge Addict
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, al...more
Sam
The Caliph's House is an account of the first year Shah and his family spent in Casablanca, renovating a dilapidated traditional house and attempting to fit in with the locals.

Unfortunately, not all of my expectations were met. In many ways, The Caliph's House is a wonderful book full of simple but absorbing writing and Shah certainly does a good job at describing Casablanca and Morocco itself. Although there are sketches included, they aren't really necessary as, reading the book, I felt as if...more
Marjorie Meyerle
This was an intelligent, engaging book about an English writer who was of Afghan descent and bought an old, derelict house in the shanty-town area of Casablanca. Shah hilariously describes the process of upgrading and restoring the old house for the purpose of living in it with his wife and two children. The reader learns much about Casablanca and its culture through Shah's account and comes to recognize his unusual patience and forbearance dealing with a culture based on cunning and superstitio...more
Diane
The author moves to Casablanca with his wife and two young children. They move into an old villa that is in disrepair. The book is the story of their first year, trying to adapt to Moroccan culture and to renovate the old villa. It is written in the style that is supposed to be humorous but that I can generally not stand - ha ha ha, I am totally unprepared and isn't that funny. I would have stopped reading but Shah also writes just enough about his insights into Moroccan culture and just enough...more
Jacquie
Oct 07, 2009 Jacquie is currently reading it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lilisa
Moving to a new country is never easy – but when it’s moving from Britain to Morocco – that’s quite a bit of an adjustment. The book captures a year’s worth of experiences shared by British travel writer Tahir Shah and his family as they wrestle with life in Casablanca – starkly different and exotic from the staid and predictable one they’ve just left. From the Jinns to the endless parade of workers pressed into service to remodel the caliph’s house, to the way business is conducted over mint te...more
Lammoth
Съвсем неусетно, редейки история след история, в стила на "Хиляда и една нощ", Тахир Шах ни запознава с проблемите на мароканското общество, в един небрежен и комичен вид.
Тахир Шах ни намеква за проблемите с ислямистите и промиването на мозъци в по-бедните общности, с непълнолетните проститутки, с подземния свят, със странните фамилни взаимоотношения. Проблеми с крайно бедните квартали, които се бутат с булдозери, оставяйки големи семейства на улицата.
Но едновременно с това Шах ни показва и поло...more
Oana
Easy to read, the story of Tahir Shah's year of renovating a jinn-haunted house in Casablanca (genies are more appropriately called jinns) is full of maddening setbacks, superstition and humour. The book is a great way to learn about living in Morocco - it sounded so easy when my father told me about the real estate there. Now I understand why the author of the My Marrakesh blog hired Americans to do her renovations. Make sure to watch < a href="http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct... ten-mi...more
Elizabeth
Take the movie "The Money Pit", move it to Casablanca, give the Shelley Long character two children but her only role is to get really angry a couple of times, give all the characters a language barrier with the locals, make the Tom Hanks character an idiot, give them a gardener, a nanny, a maid, three guardians and a personal assistant who cause more problems than they solve and you've got this mess of a book.

The flow was weird - the author would describe something, say a search for new engine...more
Louise
I like books where the author lives among the people and tells of everyday living. I've never been a fan of those that describe sites and restaurants. This book clearly fills the bill.

Shah leaves clouds, stress and pseudo friends in England. He admits his naivete in moving to Casablanca and buying a Caliph's house. He has no idea that the legal system might not protect his ownership, or that the people he hires might be controlled by jinns/spirits.

We learn about daily life and real people throu...more
Ashley
I did not particularly enjoy this book. I had expected to get a bit more insight as to the culture of Morocco, but the scope is so very narrow throughout the book, that the most educational part for me was the glossary at the end. I would have liked it to have included a little bit of background history and politics with regards to Morocco. The foundations of a country are very important to me when reading a "travelogue" sort of book.

The format of the book was bizarre to me. It read a lot more l...more
Sherlyn
Pleasantly surprised. Recommended by a friend. I always tell my friends I can read any book as long as I can get passed the first few pages. I could not put this book down. I read it in two days.

I don't like to go into detail about what a particular book is about. It ruins it. If you're like me and read any book genre, then give this one a go. It will make you sad, angry and happy all at the same time.

Definite a good read.

I will be on a journey now to read all of his Tahir Shah's books
Glenn Davisson
The author recounts the story of his move from London, England to Casablanca, Morocco. The story revolves around the restoration of the house he purchases there, Dar Caliph - the Caliph's House. The reader experiences the culture shocks with him as the author lures you in with his easy style of story telling. Stocked full of unexpected laughs, this story is a must read for all and sundry. The insights given during the unfolding of the story are as priceless as they are many.
John
What I learned from this book: I don't want to live in Casablanca. I don't think I even want to visit. Vicariously experiencing it was enough; perhaps more than enough.
But the book was entertaining, if disturbing in places.
I would have appreciated a map of the Caliph's house. It would have helped the descriptions make more sense to me. It's obviously a strange, magnificent, enormous place, unlike anyplace I've experienced.
A map of Morocco also would have been helpful.
Linda I
I love this book! What a great read! The author and his family move from their tiny London flat into a historical rundown quasi-mansion in Casablanca, Morocco. This book chronicles their move and the myriad difficulties they encounter in not only trying to renovate the house, but simply navigating the overly superstitious Moroccan culture (namely the tendency to blame all ill fortune on Jinns). Equal parts zany, humorous and endearing.
Jamie Stanley
I loved this book. it's a true story about a family who just picked and moved to complete different county and culture. I loved every aspect of.this book and would recommend it to anyone over the age of 25. it takes a certain maturity to appreciate a book like this. this book it's.definitely going.on my to 10 books of.all times. I'm so thankful that I accidently stumbled upon this book. I read it in one day :)
Elizabeth Theiss
A Year in Provence meets Morocco--this is a delightful read. The plot is the usual foreigner-buys-house-and-is-astonished-at-the-cultural-quirks-of-the-locals but it's way more wonderful than that. The book is funny and insightful. I adore Morocco and Moroccans but I think anyone would enjoy this book.
Andrea
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.
Little Gold Pixel
I have some reasons for liking this book beyond the standard narrative. As I was telling my husband (who is Moroccan), I felt like the book enlightened me here and there on his upbringing/thought process. For instance, one of the characters says that to openly admit an act of charity is to negate the purpose, and this is H through and through. (The man refuses to get a donation slip from Goodwill!)

Aside from that, I found Tahir Shah's writing to be impeccable, very lush and descriptive. I was in...more
Mary Beth
After reading this book, I really want to visit Morocco, although maybe not Casablanca. There seem to be other parts of the country I would enjoy more, but Shah's writing was insightful and entertaining.
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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 dust...more
More about Tahir Shah...
In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams Sorcerer's Apprentice In Search of King Solomon's Mines Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru Timbuctoo

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“The backstreet cafe in Casablanca was for me a place of mystery, a place with a soul, a place with danger. There was a sense that the safety nets had been cut away, that each citizen walked upon the high wire of this, the real world. I longed not merely to travel through it, but to live in such a city.” 9 likes
“In the West we are driven by an extreme form of guilt -- if you are not seen to be working like a dog, you're perceived as being slothful.” 2 likes
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