Susan's Reviews > The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca

The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah
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's review
Apr 25, 11

Read in April, 2011

Tired of gloomy, rainy London and its lack of tradition and values, Shah decides to pack up his family and buy a crumbling mansion in Casablanca titled Dar Khalifa. Morocco holds a special place in the author's heart as it was home to his childhood vacations and where his grandfather, a great Afghan tribal leader, spent his last years.

At first it appears that Dar Khalifa is Shah's dream home with its splendid courtyards, lush date palms and the bright sun of a relaxed North African life. However, as Shah immerses himself in a new culture, he discovers unique ways of doing business (buying sand at 3am in a remote corner of the city is normal),living near a shantytown with braying donkeys and the threat of bulldozers, how to cope with mafia-style neighbours and servants with unwavering belief in Jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world.

On the surface, Moroccans are European with their Rolexes and stylish silks suits, but underneath, they fiercely value tribal codes and are superstitious with their intense fear of offending Jinns. Shah offers a highly amusing and entertaining account of a year in an exotic culture. With a sharp eye for cultural differences, he transports the reader into the headaches and rewards of international home renovations and making a life in a colourful destination. As a keen observer and globe-trotter, Shah makes uncanny observations of the differences between life in England and Morocco. Sitting in a cafe was not slothful and bargaining for any merchandise was a must (lack of price negotiations is in fact offensive).

Shah also adds some unique touches by beginning each chapter with apt North African/Moroccan sayings such as "Trust in God, but tie your camel well" and "The value of the dwelling is in the dweller" and sprinkles some chapters with drawings.

A humourous and candid insight into a vivid culture that the author has openly embraced and undoubtedly loves. He clearly presents Morocco's image as the land of the exotic and magical charm that most of us are only acquainted with.

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