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The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca
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Tour d'Afrique M-Z Books 2012-16 > Shah: The Caliph's House | Morocco (Tour D'Afrique) first read: Jan 2014

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message 1: by Muphyn (last edited Feb 04, 2014 09:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Muphyn | 816 comments As I can't get hold of the official stopover read (The Sand Child), I've decided to 'The Caliph's House'.

Haven't got very far into it - and it's due back at the library on Friday!! - but I'm quite enjoying it. So far, it reminds me very much of A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco, which I read a few years ago. The one thing I've already learned from reading these two books is that you can easily write a memoir (and perhaps recover some of the cost? ;) ) if you've purchased and renovated a house overseas... way to go! ;)

Anybody else interested in joining me? Valerie? :)


message 2: by Valerie (new)

Valerie I'm with you! Picked up the book again last night and learned some more about Jinn ;) I like how the author really fouses on the local belief systems and culture. I've wondered what his beliefs are (he's from Iran originally, I believe) as he seems very uncomfortable and unbelieving of the Jinn population in his house.


Liralen | 180 comments Mod
Another discussion thread in a different group suggested a background in Sufi Islam -- but he grew up in England, right? (Aha! Page 65: 'My father never said it, but I think he was ashamed of raising his children in a quiet English village.')

I read it last year and ended up feeling a bit disappointed -- I think the story felt too disjointed to me. Really, really interesting stuff about the house and the jinns, but I really wanted to know more about his wife, and to have more closure with the questions surrounding Kamal(? his fixer -- can't remember the name).


message 4: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Yeah, I hear you about the disjointedness. His fixer seems to have an interesting back story (it's hinted at) but we don't get to hear it. I think he likes to do vignettes of this and that happening but resists settling on a single theme. (But then again, I'm only on page 60 so I may be off base.)


message 5: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - added it

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
He's a member here. I will let him know his book is being discussed. He's very friendly!


Muphyn | 816 comments Is he really, Marieke?! Cool!

Somehow I thought his background was Indian but maybe that's just his wife?? Didn't he say something like that early on? Or am I mixing up my books??


message 7: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - added it

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
yeah, he's super nice. for some reason i have it in my brain that he/his family is originally from Afghanistan. but don't hold me to that.

here is his author thread. i'll leave a comment there about this discussion and send him a DM. He might be really busy, but let's see if he can join us.


Muphyn | 816 comments Thanks, Marieke!! (Still haven't caught up on all the threads in the group so thanks for posting a link to his author thread.)

Haha, good thinking, Liralen! :)


Sheila | 82 comments still waiting on my copy to arrive from my library


message 11: by Diane, Head Librarian (last edited Feb 08, 2014 09:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 460 comments Mod
Liralen wrote: "Another discussion thread in a different group suggested a background in Sufi Islam -- but he grew up in England, right? (Aha! Page 65: 'My father never said it, but I think he was ashamed of raisi..."

That is from the group I moderate. He did grow up in England, but his father was also a famous author (Indries Shah) who wrote books about Sufism.

Here is a link about Indries Shah: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idries_Shah


Muphyn | 816 comments Yes, I eventually came across where Tahir mentions that his father was of Afghan origin and his mother Indian. His grandmother was Scottish and eloped with his grandfather to Afghanistan and to travel the world. Pretty amazing to think that this would have happened in the 1910s/20s...


Muphyn | 816 comments Liralen wrote: "... I think the story felt too disjointed to me..."

I know what you mean, I had exactly the same reaction and found myself bewildered but "unfinished" anecdotes and lots of jumping around.

I'm more than half way through now and don't find it so bad now. In fact, I'm quite used to it and he does pick up stories again a few pages or chapters later so they're not all "unfinished". I think it's more of a style thing, but I totally hear you, Liralen.

I'm very curious about Kamal too; he seems to have a great ability to solve their problems and drops off into oblivion again. I hope to find out a bit more about him, so far he just seems to come on the scene only to disappear again without more info on his background/character.


message 14: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Muphyn wrote: "As I can't get hold of the official stopover read (The Sand Child), I've decided to 'The Caliph's House'.

Haven't got very far into it - and it's due back at the library on Friday!! - but I'm quit..."


Thank you for your questions.

My family is partly from Afghanistan, and I was very much brought up with the cultural landscape of that country. And, with the territory, came an immersion in the stories of A Thousand and One Nights which, as everyone knows, are steeped in tales of Jinn. While other kids my age were reading Marvel comics, enjoying the trials and tribulations of Superman, Spiderman, and all the rest, we were being raised on Sindbad, Aladdin, Ali Baba, and a vibrant cast of irresistible characters. Moving to a Jinn-infested house in a Casablanca shantytown, was extraordinary in so many ways. But, perhaps the greatest thing about it all, was that it provided an utterly mesmerising backdrop to my own kids' childhoods. It was, very much, like growing up within the the tales from the Arabian Nights.


message 15: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Valerie wrote: "I'm with you! Picked up the book again last night and learned some more about Jinn ;) I like how the author really fouses on the local belief systems and culture. I've wondered what his beliefs are..."

My wife, Rachana, was born and raised in Mumbai, and went on to study at the Rhode Island School of Design. While I had childhood memories of Morocco luring me to that kingdom, the country was for her very much one chosen at random. She used to wonder aloud why we were living there. And, we used to joke that when I first exclaimed 'Morocco!', she thought I had said, 'Monaco!' The wonderful thing, though, was that as she had grown up in India, Rachana was never fazed by the culturally colorful landscape. She took it all in her stride.
As for Kemal: I did my level best to portray him in glowing terms. OK, he had his downside even in print, but I never wanted him to be the fall guy. In reality, I had to cut him lose in the end because much of what he set up and 'fixed' eventually came crashing down. The last time I Googled him, I found that he was attempting to sell large Amazon insects to a collector in Miami.

With best wishes,

Tahir Shah


message 16: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Please let me know if you have any further questions about this book or any others. I'm away from my office this week, but I will get back to your questions as soon as I can. Many thanks for reading!


Holly (hollyworton) Valerie wrote: "I'm with you! Picked up the book again last night and learned some more about Jinn ;) I like how the author really fouses on the local belief systems and culture. I've wondered what his beliefs are..."

Liralen, I haven't read this book in a couple of years, but I think I understand what you mean. Tahir's other book, In Arabian Nights, does revolve around a central theme, that of storytelling. I actually read that one before The Caliph's House, so I already had the background on his life in Morocco. You might enjoy In Arabian Nights more.


message 18: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - added it

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Thank you so much, Tahir, for joining us here!


message 19: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Thanks for the comments Tahir! I'm honored that you would join our discussion!


Liralen | 180 comments Mod
Tahir, thank you for the responses and additional background! It sounds like such a wonderful (ongoing) adventure.


Liralen | 180 comments Mod
Holly wrote: "Tahir's other book, In Arabian Nights, does revolve around a central theme, that of storytelling. I actually read that one before The Caliph's House, so I already had the background on his life in Morocco. You might enjoy In Arabian Nights more. "

Thanks; I hadn't realised that -- I think I originally put The Caliph's House on my to-read list when I was going through a reading-about-houses stage, so I wasn't looking further at the time. Good to know.


Sheila | 82 comments I am still hoping to read this one. It has now arrived from the Library but so many books have arrived together it will have to join the queue! But great to see Tahir here for our discussion.


message 23: by Muphyn (last edited Feb 19, 2014 11:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Muphyn | 816 comments Tahir, thanks so much for joining us, so exciting!! :) I just finished the book and really enjoyed it once I got used to your style of "disjointed stories" (which tended to connect a few pages later and thus made sense).

Do you still live at Dar Khalifa now or did you end up doing what your wife suggested at the end of the book? I'm really curious.

Kamal thoroughly entertained me, his way of solving problems really cracked me up. Oh, and I'm glad you got your container of books in the end, I was a bit concerned for you about that. :)


Muphyn | 816 comments Thanks for the additional background on your family. In the book, I really enjoyed the background on your grandfather, that seemed really special.


message 25: by Sheila (last edited Feb 24, 2014 07:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sheila | 82 comments I just started the book yesterday evening and love the preoccupation of the guardians with the djinn in the house. I've seen that elsewhere in the Mahgreb.

Tahir, One point I am making particular note of and will store it for future use is how you stopped the continual demand for hiring of relatives. Nice solution - you want me to hire your relative, Ok, but ony as your replacement :)

That I think is a classic of living in other cultures, finding solutions to problems you never knew existed before living in that country.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of this book. I like your writing style, very flowing, it is like listening to you tell it. I listen to a lot of audio books and think it would work very well in that format.


Muphyn | 816 comments I agree, Sheila, the hiring relatives solution was very neat and made me laugh out loud! :)


message 27: by Sheila (last edited Feb 25, 2014 05:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sheila | 82 comments I just got to the discovery of his grandfather's diaries - how delightful a surprise. I am wondering what Tahir has made of them. Also I am thinking I must try and find a copy of his grandmother's biography Morag Murray Abdullah's My Khyber Marriage which sadly my library doesn't have - being Scottish by birth I feel linked in spirit to this woman who eloped with the man from Afghanistan. She must have been a marvelloous and intrepid woman who knew her own mind, and heart. Good on her!


Sheila | 82 comments Finished. Tahir, so what happened with the gangster's house now you owned it? I assume the study we see on your web page is the one you record the building of inthe book, I can smell the cedar wood. It looks marvellous. It must be such an inspirational place to work. Is Kamal still working with you? :)


Muphyn | 816 comments My questions exactly, Sheila!


message 30: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Muphyn wrote: "Tahir, thanks so much for joining us, so exciting!! :) I just finished the book and really enjoyed it once I got used to your style of "disjointed stories" (which tended to connect a few pages late..."

Hello, thanks for your questions. Yes, we are still living at Dar Khalifa. And it's as magical as ever. I am writing this from the library and I can hear birdsong out in the courtyard garden. It's always been my dream to do it all again, and buy a house in Fes, but alas that dream is still be be lived. The only sadness is that the shantytown is being torn down bit by bit. Apartment buildings are sprouting up, which is horrid beyond belief. Thankfully, we live in an oasis of our own, with the Jinns to watch over us.
As for Kemal, yes he was such a character. I don't see him often. He's melted away to do other adventures.


message 31: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Sheila wrote: "I just got to the discovery of his grandfather's diaries - how delightful a surprise. I am wondering what Tahir has made of them. Also I am thinking I must try and find a copy of his grandmother's ..."

Thanks for your message. One of my great sadnesses in life is that I never knew my Scottish grandmother. She died before I was born. From all I have heard she was the strongest of women, and one who was not afraid of diving in at the deep end of life. For me, my grandfather has been an inspiration like no other. The thing that touches me so acutely about his example is the way he did that he pleased -- always in search of an interesting life.


message 32: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Some of you may be curious to see more images of Dar Khalifa. I have an album of photos of the house on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TahirShahAuthor. I also have a video tour of Dar Khalifa on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ax9Z.... I have a number of other videos that show other parts of the house, particularly the ones I uploaded in 2011/2012. Please let me know if you have any questions.


message 33: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Sheila wrote: "Finished. Tahir, so what happened with the gangster's house now you owned it? I assume the study we see on your web page is the one you record the building of inthe book, I can smell the cedar wood..."

Thanks for your message. Yes, the library is so off-the-scale magical. It's such a feast for the senses -- most of all the cedar smell. As for the nasty neighbour -- he's still there and he still doesn't have any papers for his house. I used to be angry about him but have decided to no longer waste time caring very much.


message 34: by Muphyn (last edited Mar 04, 2014 02:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Muphyn | 816 comments Oh, wow, thanks for sharing some photos, I LOVE your house, it's beautiful!! It feels really special having read your book and now looking at photos (different to how I imagined it but stunningly different :) ).

Thank you, Tahir, for joining us here and answering all our questions, very exciting to have a chance to do that.


message 35: by Sheila (last edited Mar 04, 2014 02:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sheila | 82 comments Tahir, I echo what Muphyn just said. Thanks for the link to the video tour I loved the garden with its hanging spheres, bells and those fountains look asbolutely fantastic mosaics - do they flow or is there some way one turn's them on for a drink? Are the caretakers still with you?


message 36: by Sheila (last edited Mar 04, 2014 03:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sheila | 82 comments Tahir, Can I ask you to say something about how you wrote the book? Did you plan to write this book from the start? Did you keep a journal through the purchase and refurb and then write the book at the end - and if so how long did it take you? or did you write the book as you went along?


Muphyn | 816 comments Sheila wrote: "Tahir, Can I ask you to say something about how you wrote the book? Did you plan to write this book from the start? Did you keep a journal through the purchase and refurb and then write the book at..."

Great questions, Sheila!! Made me curious too.


message 38: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Hi Sheila, thanks for the question. The answer is no, I didn't ever expect to write a book about moving to Morocco. I was a travel writer and I usually tended to write about journeys, not my family and home-life. But as the adventure unfolded, i just thought it was too good not to enjoy by committing to paper. TS


message 39: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Yes yes the fountains flow… and it's the MOST beautiful Spring day here at Dar Khalifa today. The sound of the water trickling from the fountains transports me to a realm of A Thousand and One Nights. The original guardians had all move on to better work -- I did my best to help them climb up the ladder of life. TS


message 40: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Thanks for your message… and yes yes yes Dar Khalifa is a fragment of Paradise… and is really my best friend. The only sad thing is that the shantytown is slowly being replaced by posh apartment buildings… These are tricky times. Again, thanks, TS


Sheila | 82 comments Tahir, tx for all your replies to my questions. I am enjoying your youtube videos as well. As I move on to other reads I just want to thank you for your time and effort here on the Good reads board and wish you, your family and dar Khalifa all the best. Salam alaikum.


Muphyn | 816 comments Yes, thanks for joining us here, Tahir!! It's been really fabulous having the author chime in and answer questions, thank you.


message 43: by Tahir (new)

Tahir Shah (tahirshahauthor) | 38 comments Many thanks to all of you for reading! I appreciate it. I'll check back again in a few days to see if there are any final questions.


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