Caliph’s House

Shah, Tahir. The Caliph’s House: a Year in Casablanca. New York: Bantam Dell Books, 2006.

Reason read: Morocco’s independence was obtained in November.

Everyone has a story of an event in their lives; how they met their sparkling spouse, how they came into their fascinating occupation, how they started an odd hobby for which they are extremely passionate. The most interesting stories are the ones that are life changing; an abrupt 180 degree turn from where they used to be. A hobby turning into a business so they can quit their dead end job, for example. Tahir Shah has such a story in The Caliph’s House. The London based travel writer was looking to move to Morocco. Tired of grey weather and bland food, he wanted to get back to the culture of his ancestry. After many false starts a classmate of his mother’s contacted him out of the blue in 2004 with an offer he couldn’t refuse: the sale of Dar Khalifa, the once home of a Caliph, a spiritual leader of Casablanca. Even though this is a story about living through a house renovation it goes beyond tiles and plumbing. Shah explores what it means to buy and restore a house in a post 911 society. Morocco struggles to be a paradise of tolerance. At the same time, Shah becomes intimately and intensely aware of “how things get done” when he hires a man of ill repute to be his right hand man. Encounters with thieves, possible murderers, even the mob are the norm. But, it is the exorcism that readers all wait for with breath held. Who in their right mind would slaughter a goat in every room of a mansion-sized abode?

Most startling takeaway – even Casablanca has a mafia.

Quote to quote, “There was a sadness in the still of the dusk” (p 1). Yes! I have always felt the melancholy amid the gloaming, especially on Monhegan. I can’t explain it.
Some funny quotes, “We were both blinkered by our upbringings” (p 105), “The nervous man pulled the lid off one of the toilets and fishes out half a dozen samples of cedar” (p 294), “But it was the first time I had hired a troupe of exorcists, and I didn’t know the protocol” (p 314), and “I like my meat to be anonymous, severed from its connection to life” (p 318). Don’t we all?

Author fact: Shah has a few videos on YouTube, including one of a tour of Dar Khalifa that is pretty cool. He talks about having to placate the Jinns and how he ended up having a grand exorcism with twenty-four exorcists.

Book trivia: the illustrations by Laura Hartman Maestro are wonderful, but what is most impressive is the assumed photograph of Dar Khalifa.

Nancy said: Pearl just describes a tiny bit of the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “So We/I Bought or Built a House In…” (p 210).



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