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The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  7,091 ratings  ·  819 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, 349 pages
Published December 26th 2006 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2006)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  7,091 ratings  ·  819 reviews

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Jason Goodwin
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
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
Jul 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fun-and-easy

The title sounded good and maybe that is how I ended up with this book in my bookcase. Good thing it did, because it was a very fun read, and so I couldn't put it down.

Tahir Shah had been to Morocco when he was a kid and never forgot the place. I had been to Morocco at the Epcot Center in Florida's Disneyworld and never forgot my meal there. Mix dried fruits in meats or any food, and yum. I have a meatloaf recipe with groundup dried apricots in the center that I used to make for myself when I wa
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Tired of what he describes as his “meager existence” under the wet, grey skies of England, Tahir Shah decides to uproot his wife and young children and move to Morocco, chronicling their experience in The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca. Shah purchases the Caliph’s house (Dar Khalifa) in Casablanca, a dilapidated home, empty for ten years and situated on the edge of a shantytown. Upon entering his new home, he discovers his house comes equipped with a staff of three guardians and a she-jinn ...more
I read about 30 pages of this book, and while it is very well-written, the author's voice is a bit flat. I think a series of three essays would have covered his experience, because it already felt a bit repetitive. None of the humorous elements made me smile - this author may have a gift with words, but he failed to win me over and convince me to drop every other book and follow him and his family on their journey. ...more
Missy J
Moroccan craftsman working on zellij, beautiful mosaic tilework.

Everything is made by hand!


Zellij, beautiful Moroccan mosaic tilework.

When I came across the title of this book, I thought it would be about the author's travel experience living in Casablanca for a year. But no. This book is about the author buying(!) a house in Morocco, moving his family to Casablanca and their first year living in Dar Khalifa (the name of the house).

When I started reading this book, I was a bit apprehen
Jun 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
As someone with a personal connection with Morocco, who has lived there, who has gone through various trials and tribulations there, but who is still very much in love with the country, this book is definitely a 5 star read.

Not only does Tahir Shah capture the funny side of the tough times faced in Morocco, but his feelings for the country, very much like my own, only grow on the completion of these difficult moments.

This truly is a wonderful read. It definitely captures similar feelings to what
Enjoyable enough read, but a little repetitive with the superstitious natives.
Mar 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
A delightful and funny account of living - and renovating - in Morocco. I have never read any of the My Year Under The Sun with Quaint but Wise and Eccentric Locals genre, but suspect the book follows the conventions of those books rather closely. Nonetheless, Shah is an engaging and observant storyteller and the glimpses of his family history add depth. A very enjoyable companion to a Moroccan vacation.
Jan 22, 2009 added it
I love exotic travel & home renovation *adventures* and this is my new favorite. I've been kind of obsessed with Morocco lately, and I loved this account of one family's first-year adjustments to the way of life there. I was particularly interested in the rich tapestry of superstition that governs every aspect daily life. From now on, I'm blaming every problem, large or small, on the Jinns :-) ...more
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I haven’t read any of Tahir Shah’s work before. I chanced upon this book in the library and its content attracted me. It is a book about the author’s relocating from England to Morocco and the family’s experiences in Morocco in the aftermath. I travelled for a little while in Morocco in 2017 and I loved the friendly nature of its people and the stunning architecture of palaces in cities like Fez. Ever since, I had wanted to learn French well so that I can go back and travel extensively there. I ...more
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Hmmm. There is not much happening in this book. A British man with Arabic descent moves his family away from a small place in London to a massive house in Casablanca called The Caliph’s House. There is a major culture shock but the author, who is writing about his own experience, takes it in his stride, presumably to write a book about it.

The main thing is that the house was uninhabited for a long time and became derelict. Apparently jinns occupy abandoned houses therefore guardians are employe
Mindy McAdams
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I had a good time reading this -- my first book by this author. It won't be my last. He has several others.

I love the idea of what author Tahir Shah did: He somehow convinced his wife to leave everything in their home in London and go with him, taking their two small children, to move into a sprawling, long-neglected grand house in Casablanca. Shah speaks no Arabic and (he says) poor French, but he manages to get along with the help of a number of diverse Moroccans whom he employs. I love both e
Feb 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Signe Martišūne
Sep 11, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I lived in Tunis ten years after the time descibed in this book, had no knowledge of gins, but many things I experienced where so similar. Beatifully written, suprising and what an amazing way to find at the end where you belong... strongly recommend and also there is a youtube short video tour of the house once its finished - was so great to see that.
Dec 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
May 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub, read-again
Tahir Shah writes a fascinating, non-fiction account of the year when he takes his family from the hustle and bustle of London to Moracco where they buy a dilapidated old mansion to renovate. It is an amusing look at the clash of cultures as Shah navigates through Moraccan society, a fusion of Islamic, European and African cultures, to restore the Caliph's House to its original grandeur. Along the way, he learns how to do things the Casablancan way, from buying building materials on the black ma ...more
Jul 27, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Ashley V
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very entertaining story, high quality writing... Tahir Shah's voice and personality bleeds through the book. Super funny Moroccan cultural anecdotes left and right. Any westerner who has moved to, and live in, a developing country for any period of time will relate to this book and all of the stories related throughout. Great window into Moroccan culture and life. I'll definitely be reading more of Shah's books.

*My one "complaint" about the book... Shah mentions several times his lack of financi
Feb 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Around this time every year I gravitate to travel literature. The locale doesn't have to be exotic to capture my interest, sometimes a writer explores the ordinary in an extraordinary way. This book is a memoir of Shah's move to Morocco with his young family and his experience of renovating an old house. The book is in the tradition of Peter Mayle, entertaining, with colorful local characters (everyone in Morocco seems to believe in djinns) but not much insight. Shah is neither a poet or philoso ...more
Apr 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
What I loved about Tahir Shah's account of uprooting his young family from London and moving to a ramshackle old house in Casablanca, which he renovates, painstakingly and often excruciatingly, is how clear-eyed and unromantic his writing is.

This is not an indictment at all; the book is wonderful, tender, very funny and filled with unforgettable characters. But Shah does not shy away from the ugly and sordid side of Casablanca, and neither does he ignore his own hubris and the price this exacts
Sep 10, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was interesting, but a couple of things ruined it for me.

First, some of the stories just seemed hard to believe. Perhaps the author's style just feels fictional, but I frequently felt like he was embellishing to make the story more interesting. He also lets people walk all over him, which may make for a wilder story, but it also makes him a less sympathetic character.

Second, the author seems to have almost no regard for how much he's putting upon his wife to take on this adventure. I
Glenn Davisson
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
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Tahir Shah was born in London, and raised primarily at the family’s home, Langton House, in the English countryside – where founder of the Boy Scouts, Lord Baden Powell was also brought up.

Along with his twin and elder sisters, Tahir was continually coaxed to regard the world around him through Oriental eyes. This included being exposed from early childhood to Eastern stories, and to the back-to-f

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