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).


Crazy Days of October

I don’t know where to begin with trying to explain October. From the beginning, I guess. It started with a trip home; a lovely week off with lots of reading accomplished. Then it was a New England Patriots football game followed by two Phish shows and a political rally for a state in which I do not live. If that wasn’t weird enough, I hung out with a person who could have raped or killed or loved me to death. Take your pick. Any one of those scenarios was more than possible. It was a truly bizarre month.
But, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Quick but cute read.
  • Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB/print). Sad.
  • The Chronoliths by Robert C. Wilson. Interesting.
  • Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB). Boring.

Nonfiction:

  • Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris (EB/print). Only slightly less boring than Bridge.
  • Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth. Really interesting.
  • African Laughter by Doris Lessing. Okay.

Series continuations:

  • The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
  • Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.

Fun:

  • We Inspire Me by Andrea Pippins. Cute.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Gardening Under Lights by Leslie F. Halleck. When I set up the reads for October I didn’t include this because it hadn’t arrived yet.

I should add that October was a really frustrating month for books. I never really liked anything I was reading.


African Laughter

Lessing, Doris. African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe.New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

Reason read: to celebrate Lessing’s birth month in October.

Even though Doris Lessing was born to British parents in Iran and didn’t move to Southern Rhodesia until she was six, Lessing called the African continent her homeland. She spent twenty-four years there until she moved to London, England. African Laughter is a very personal memoir about four trips back to Zimbabwe after being exiled for twenty-five years.
Interestingly enough, the title African Laughter comes from Lessing’s joy of hearing Africans laugh. “The marvelous African laughter born somewhere in the gut, seizing the whole body with good-humoured philosophy” (p 80).

Confessional: there were times when I got lost in Lessing’s chronology. An example: Lessing is visiting her brother and describing a scene languishing on the verandah. Her brother’s two Alsatians (popular dogs as pets in Africa) are lounging nearby. One dog in particular, Sheba, hungers for Lessing’s female attentions. Lessing then seamlessly goes on to describe how Sheba finally attached herself to her male owner only to be strangled to death in some loose wire at the end of a fence. Because she doesn’t reference two periods in time I wasn’t sure when this happened. Subsequent mentions of poor Sheba are depressing, knowing her sad demise.

Lines I liked, “All writers know the state of trying to remember what actually happened, rather than what was invented, or half invented, a meld of truth and fiction” (p 72) and “With a library and perhaps some sympathetic adult to advise them, there in nothing in the world they cannot study” ( p 206).

Author fact: Lessing was born in Iran in 1919.

Book trivia: African Laughter has some great insight into other books Lessing has written, like The Golden Notebook.

Nancy said: Nancy mentioned African Laughter as one of the books she found “engrossing” after she had written the “Dreaming of Africa” section in Book Lust.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Zipping Through Zimbabwe/Roaming Rhodesia” (p 268).


Eurydice Street

Zinovieff, Sofka. Eurydice Street: a Place in Athens. London: Granta Books, 2005.

Reason read: Domition of the Holy Mother Virgin occurs on August 15th.

British-born Sofka Zinovieff travels back to Athens, Greece with her Greek husband and children. In Eurydice Street she recounts the first year of her efforts to “become” Greek. Embracing culture, politics and customs, Zinovieff vividly describes the swirling life around her. Because of her unbridled enthusiasm, friends comment she is more Greek than her husband. Eurydice Street is an interesting blend of history, travelogue, memoir, and political commentary on all things Athens.

Author fact: Eurydice Street is Zinovieff’s first book.

Book trivia: Eurydice Street includes two hand drawn maps.

Nancy said: Eurydice Street was an “excellent choice” for reading about Greece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).


Season in Red

Needham, Kirsty. A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China. NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2006.

Reason read: the Double 7 Festival takes place in August.

Kirsty Needham traveled to Beijing, China in 2004 to immerse herself in the the culture. She wanted to see how China was modernizing at that time. As a journalist she arrived with a suitcase full of preconceived notions of how her time will be spent. She soon learns nothing is as it seems in a world full of constantly changing communist propaganda and government bureaucracy. As she says, “But there is a difference between knowing what you are letting yourself in for, and how you actually react when you find yourself there” (p 94). SARS, Saint Bernard dogs, controversial bicycles, progressive fashion and techno-night clubs are all the rage.

While I didn’t find any lines I wanted to quote, I did find some pop culture I wanted to look up after reading A Season in Red: the Taiwanese mandopop all girl-band, SHE and the kind-of-sexy singer, Jay Chou.

Author fact: Needham was able to work in Beijing thanks to an Australia-China Council exchange program.

Book trivia: there are no maps, photographs or significant illustrations in A Season in Red.

Nancy said: Nancy said she needed to be “very picky” about the books she included about the Middle Kingdom. A Season in Red made the cut. (Book Lust To Go p 60).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “China: the Middle Kingdom” (p 60).


Travels of August

Since the Run for Nancy was only a few days ago I am still on a high from not only running four miles, but running four miles without pain. No pain whatsoever. The pain is so gone it’s as if I imagined the whole thing. Weird. Weird. Weird. As for books, since I don’t have any other running plans in the near future:

Fiction:

  • The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe – in honor of August being Chick Lit month.
  • The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay – in honor of Courtenay’s birth month being in August.
  • Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts – in honor of August being Dream Month (hey, I read it somewhere).
  • Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett – in honor of Dunnett’s birth month being in August.
  • The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall – in honor of Rajir Ratna Gandhi’s birth in August.

Nonfiction:

  • A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird – in honor of Colorado becoming a state in August.
  • Eurydice Street: a Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff – in honor of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin.
  • A Season in Red by Kirsty Needham – in honor of the Double Seven festival in China.

Series continuations:

  • The Big Bad City by Ed McBain – to continue the series started in July.

If there is time:

Fiction:

  • Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman – in honor of Ekman’s birth month.
  • Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli – in honor of Fairy Tale Month.

 


June Thunder

So June went by lightning fast, as I expected. Had good shows with Imagine Dragons and Dead and Company. Spent quality time with family and friends. Ran next to nothing for miles. But, the books! Thanks to not running (still) and all the travel I was able to get a lot of reading done…

Fiction:

  • Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson (EB & print)
  • Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams (EB & print)
  • Afterlife by Paul Monette (EB & print)
  • Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason (AB)

Nonfiction:

  • Six Days of War by Michael Oren (print) – confessional: did not finish
  • Cactus Eaters by Dan White (print)
  • I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman (print)
  • Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn (AB)

Series continuations:

  • Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell (EB & print)
  • Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame (EB & print)

Short Stories:

  • “Xingu” by Edith Wharton (EB)
  • “Verlie I Say Unto You” by Alice Adams (EB)
  • “Roses, Rhododendrons” by Alice Adams (EB)

For fun:

  • Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU by Julie Foudy