Wonderfully written, funny, entertaining, magical account of the author's struggle to restore a house and set up home in Morocco.
Look into the eyes of a jinn and you stare into the depths of your own soul...
Writer and film-maker Tahir Shah - in his 30s, married, with two small children - was beginning to wilt under brash, cramped, ennervating British city life. Flying in the face of friends' advice, he longed to fulfil his dream of finding a place bursting with life, colour, history and romance - somewhere far removed from London - in which to raise a family. Childhood memories of holidaying with his parents, and of a grandfather he barely knew, led him to Morocco and to 'Dar Khalifa', a sprawling and, with the exception of its jinns, long-abandoned residence on the edge of Casablanca's shanty town that, rumour had it, once belonged to the city's Caliph.
And so begins Tahir Shah's gloriously vivid, funny, affectionate and compelling account of how he and his family - aided, abetted and so often hindered by a wonderful cast of larger-than-life local characters: guardians, gardeners, builders, artisans, bureacrats and police (not forgetting the jinns, the spirits that haunt the house) - returned the Caliph's House to its former glory and learned to make this most exotic and alluring of countries their home.
THE CALIPH'S HOUSE is a story of home-ownership abroad - full of the attendant dramas, anxieties and frustrations - but it is also much more. Woven into the narrative is the author's own journey of self-discovery, of learning about a grandfather he hardly knew, and of coming to love the magical, multi-faceted, contradictory country that is Morocco.
“Funny, moving, fast-paced and thoughtful, it confirms Shah as one of the best travel writers of his generation...a rich mosaic of a book as intricate, complex and beautiful as the Arabian Nights world it describes”
“Reading about restoring houses overseas can be as tedious as watching paint dry...yet I can't fault this joyful and resplendent addition to the genre. Shah writes without artifice or condescension, his language is fluent and direct. His characters leap off the page...I couldn't put the book down.”
RORY MACLEAN, SUNDAY TIMES
“A book full of charm and humour, elevated by a consistent sense of the beauty and mystery of everyday life. What also shines through the narrative is the author's decency and respect for the people and the cultures he encounters, the sort of qualities we like to think of as fundamentally British ...a tribute to our potential for understanding and learning to live with irreconcilable differences”
“Shah...with good humour and wit...gives a vivid evocation of the spirit of the place...The Caliph's House is charmingly escapist, and combines the pleasures of good property porn with those of the best travel writing”
“Painted with a novelist's rather than a reporter's eye...His descriptions are entertaining, his dialogue often hilarious.”
“An extraordinary tale of exploratory daring, insatiable curiosity and excruciating humour...written with tremendous verve, colour, compassion and wisdom, it's a magical story...Don't miss this gem of a book.”
“A year abroad, a house rebuilt, but with a difference. Extremely odd characters and the narrative drive of a good novel. Very funny.”
JOHN MAN, author of Genghis Khan
“Endlessly fascinating...Shah's own heritage as both Afghan and Briton blesses him with a unique and penetrating point of view”
“Elegantly woven. The dominant colours are luminous...sheer delight”
“Alluring...an exotic and thought-provoking read.”
GOOD BOOK GUIDE
“Maximum splendour, maximum squalor...Enlivened by well-wrought descriptions of life in Casablanca: a place suspended between modernity and the Middle Ages, between Europe and Africa.”
NEW YORK TIMES
“Highly readable...Shah writes an outrageously black comedy with the straightest of poker faces”
“A wonderfully entertaining book - Tahir Shah's talent is to make you laugh while you are admiring the insights given by his most original and lively view of life.”