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A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,094 ratings  ·  149 reviews
When Suzanna Clarke and her husband bought a dilapidated house in the Moroccan town of Fez, their friends thought they were mad. Located in a maze of donkey-trod alleyways, the house - a traditional riad - was beautiful but in desperate need of repair. Walls were in danger of collapse, the plumbing non-existent. While neither Suzanna nor her husband spoke Arabic, and had o ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Ebury Press (first published January 1st 2007)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  1,094 ratings  ·  149 reviews


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Sally906
Suzanna Clarke is a reporter for the Brisbane Courier and in A HOUSE IN FEZ she relates how she and her husband fell in love with a country and purchased, then renovated, a centuries old house in Fez, Morocco. Only able to spend a few months at a time in Morocco, a lot of the work had to be done remotely from Australia with a few good friends back in Morocco helping out where they can. In between the story of the renovations, locating tradesmen and dealing with red tape Suzanna also relates the ...more
tea_for_two
An pleasant enough read - travel lit lite - and as a fellow expat living in Morocco (I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer serving here) I can empathize with some of Clarke's frustrations, but like many of the other commenters, I was struck by how little interaction Clarke really had with Morocco.

Her primary social group was almost entirely made up of foreigners, and the only Moroccans she regularly interacted with were her employees, or the two women she formed fraught and unequal relationshi
...more
Heidi
Feb 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
I wish there were more stars, 5 does not seem enough for this book. History, culture through an outsider's eyes, home restoration and the human connection that makes the world go 'round. This book will fuel my day-dreams for years to come.
Maria
Jun 01, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I decided to read this book because we were thinking about traveling to Morocco in the fall and I wanted to get excited about the trip. This book had the exact opposite effect. I'm certain it was unintentional, but the author made Morocco sound really unappealing. She obviously enjoys living there, but completely failed at conveying why she does. I also found the author to be very whiny. The book was mostly comprised of complaints about how difficult it was to renovate this house. I know that li ...more
Chris
Aug 22, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: office, memoir
Unusually for me, I actually had to force myself to finish this book. Other reviewers have cited the author's tone as something of a turn-off. As a frequent visitor to the Middle East, I'm familiar with the frustrations that Ms. Clarke expresses ("Why is everything so needlessly complex??") but there was a cross between self-congratulation for dealing with Moroccan bureaucracy and the informal economy (read: tips and bribes) coupled with a constant need to remind us that she basically didn't tru ...more
Rachel
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not impressive, as travel writing goes. Clarke is neither patient nor humorous enough to pull it off, and is rather ungraceful in dealing with unforeseen issues with buying a house and living in a foreign country. Understandable, but makes for a boring/annoying book.
Fay
I liked this book and part of me wants to give it another star because it is about Morocco, a country I love deeply but I at this point I just have to keep it at three starts. It was a good enough read but not as great as other books out there that are similar (not that you shouldn't read this to get more of a glimpse of moving to Morocco).

I was deeply disappointed with the fact that Clarke, who was moving from Australia to Morocco part time had very little contact with Moroccans. Unfortunately
...more
Mindy McAdams
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
I was very disappointed in this book. I recently read The Caliph's House, about restoring a traditional house in Casablanca. The problem is not that this book (about restoring a traditional house in Fez -- or Fès) is too similar to the other, but rather that it is so inferior in style and flavor.

The most annoying thing for me was that that author continually talks about how much each thing costs. Prices, amounts of dirhams, and how every Moroccan is always cheating the Australian author and her husba
...more
Robert Clancy
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
I purchased this book to read before our trip to Fez, Morocco last month. However, I only got through the first 3 chapters before we arrived in Fez. There was so much to see and do in Morocco, I didn't have one minute to pick up this account of an Australian couple who bought a riad in the heart of Fez in the ancient Medina. We also stayed at a first-class, great old riad called Ryad Mabrouka in the Medina. We also met a British couple from London - the same area where my daughter lives, Chiswic ...more
Lexi Kate
May 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful book for anyone looking for background on Morocco's history as well as insight into the daily life of a foreigner in Fez. It was particularly poignant for me as after reading it I could practically smell the tanneries mingling with the cooking smells of dates, couscous, almonds and sweet mint tea. I can visualize the 'Blue Gate' that the french built when they conquered fez and thought the best way to control the population was by granting them architectural concessions. Walk ...more
Jana
Very informative book about life, culture and buying and restoring an old house in one of the traditional and oldest parts of the ancient Moroccan city Fez. Complete and utter clash of two different mentalities but she wrote very well about why she loves (hates) city’s bribery and joyfulness, and it was easy for me to imagine myself there in that Muslim chaos. Looking forward travelling to North Africa.
Dawn
Mar 27, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel-memoir
I enjoy books that allow me to learn about a different country and it's culture. "A House in Fez" is such a book. The author and her husband bought a house in Fez and restored it to its "original splendor".

There were frustrations along the way.

"This is how things are done in Morocco, I kept reminding myself, taking deep breaths. It was just as well my high-school French didn't run to swear words."

But through it all, it was the people who helped with the restoration that made
...more
N
This memoir of an Australian couple who buy and renovate a riad (traditional Moroccan house) in Fez is very 'oh, white people', but I quite enjoyed learning snippets about Fez, and stories of wrangling a house through a renovation have conflict baked in.

As a memoir, though, it's pretty ropey. There's not much of an arc beyond, "could we renovate a house? hey, we renovated a house!" I literally could not tell you one thing about Suzanna Clarke beyond the fact that she's a journalist.
...more
Cheryl
Enjoyed the intensely personal story of the trials and tribulations of a couple who purchase and restore a vacation house in Fez. There were interesting snippets of history and information about present-day Fez but the primary focus was on all the effort that goes into renovating a house. Stressful enough in this country, I learned how much harder it is when it is a whole different culture.

I loved the image of the little donkeys, the dismay when they are seized, the exultation when they were re
...more
Ana
Jul 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves a mix of culture and architecture
I found it fascinating to read the account of an Australian couple who buy a riad in the Fez medina and slowly restore it. I've noticed some people mention the tediousness of Clarke's descriptions of the building and renovating work, however that really is the whole point of the book. The title alone should give you a hint as to what the contents are, particularly the word "Building". I didn't find this tedious; I like the way Clarke writes and thought the story flowed rather nicely. It made me ...more
D.C. Gallin
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and the way it talks about the adventure, ensuing complications and financial drain of renovating a house in the medina of Fez. Permeated with a love for Morocco and its people, this is a very realistic and personal story describing with total honesty the contrast between us, the rich, comparatively spoilt westerners, and the poor inhabitants of the medina: The lively characterisations of the people and their art makes me want to fly over there in an instant and save an archite ...more
Jennifer
Aug 09, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: morocco
Initially I was a little put off by the author's tone. It did smack a bit of a Western superiority complex. But by the end I had grown in appreciation of what she and her husband were accomplishing with the renovation of the Moroccan riad. I would probably be a little smug, too, if I had fixed a place up in a way that honored tradition and looked fabulous.

It was interesting seeing how her acceptance of the Moroccan way of doing things grew. I appreciated getting a foreigners view of Moroccans f
...more
Catherine
Jan 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Clarke and her husband Sandy purchase a riad in Fez that is a fixer-upper, to put it mildly. The book explores in great detail and thorough minutiae the couple's process in renovating their home.

While Clarke does share her discoveries of the Moroccan culture, a touch of history, and offers some fun reflections on her various inter-personal relationships, the primary focus is on the, at times, tedious account of the home project.

I would say this book is closer to 3-1/2 stars because
...more
Rebecca
Jul 31, 2009 rated it liked it
What I like is Clarke's openness to the culture in which she and her partner find themselves when they decide to renovate a home in the ancient medina of Fez. So many books of this type are disdainful of the world to which they've willingly expatriated. In the way they painstakingly restore their home, in the way they befriend the people who do the work, and in the way they immerse themselves in Morroccan life, this is an inspiring and joy-full read -- even with the many woes that accompany any ...more
Carmen Turner
Jun 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
A wonderful read about an Australian couple who buy a riad in Fez, Morocco. Suzanna Clarke conveys the social, cultural, and religious mores of the people of Morocco and how she and her husband coped with these differences as they restored an old house to its former splendor. Clarke's description of Morocco is a rich tapestry of vibrant hues, exotic foods and smells, and a way of life that existed centuries ago.
Salsadancer
Apr 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the travel-adventureous
An Australian couple buy and restore a 3-century old riad (courtyard house) in Morocco. I enjoy reading about other people's experiences in other countries. I cannot imagine buying a centuries-old house in an ancient city where I can't speak the language and they undertaking the restoration of it. How daring! In addition to the house restoration, Suzanna worked in tidbits about the Moroccan culture with made it even more interesting.
Willyf22
May 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
An interesting look, from a Western point of view, into life in Morocco. The author and her husband bought a centuries-old house in the old city of Fez and remodeled. This tells the story of how they restored the old house, the people they met, and the junk they had to deal with. A really cool story. Makes me want to go visit.
Danie P.
Jan 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent traveloge/memoir about an australian couple buying a house, restoring the house and living in fez. It is told with the utmost honesty and sincerity. The author also has a blog called A View from Fez that shows how artisans make the arched doors popular in fez to how to make couscous from hand.
CaliforniaCoyote
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Having just come back from my first trip to Morocco with a wonderful couple of days in Fez this book was an absolute delight to read. It took me back to those winding souks, I could almost feel the donkeys pushing past and smell the olives mixed with spices, fish, cat pee, and scooter exhaust. I highly recommend this book before or after you go - or both!
Emma Anderson
Aug 23, 2015 rated it liked it
This book will fuel wander lust and dreams and you can learn a lot about a completely different culture. This book wouldn't be for everyone which is why I have given it 3 rather than 4 stars but if you were to visit Morocco it would give you a great insight into he various quirks of Moroccan culture
Karen Floyd
Apr 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, memoir
Why am I so fascinated by stories of people who move to other countries, restore houses there, and find their emotional homes? Clarke weaves Moroccan history, culture and customs into the adventure of buying and restoring her house. It is named Riad Zany after her childhood nickname, but it also seems apt to buying a house in a country where one doesn't speak the language.
Heather
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
I've been working in construction for several years (in the US) and it's a frustrating industry with delays and a constant change of laborers so I could only imagine how this would be in a foreign culture. Suzanna's renovation of her Moroccan home was a nice backdrop for we the reader to experience the nuances of this strange and beautiful land's culture.
Muphyn
This book paints a nice picture of what it's like buying and restoring an old riad in Morocco as a Westerner. Gives some nice insight into architecture and life in Fez as seen through the eyes of an Australian journalist. I enjoyed it.
Deanna
Aug 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Wow...this was one of those books I didn't want to finish. I knew very little about modern day Morocco beyond the descriptions of mosques and women's limited rights. This book brought the town of Fez to life in an everyday way. Great book!
Kristina Rothe
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot about the culture in Fez. It's a good thing to get a different perspective on the arab world.
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