three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
By: 
Tahir Shah
user_rating: 
0

A Year in Casablanca

A-TheCaliph’sHouseTahir Shah had all the right intentions when he moved his family from London to Casablanca. He wished to share his fond childhood memories of Morocco with his family; to reconnect with his Muslim heritage; and, perhaps more selfishly, to trade England’s gloom for some Mediterranean sun. He assumed that the seaside palace Dar Khalifa was the perfect place to undertake his relocation. That is, until his staff of three revealed that the crumbling Caliph’s house was awash in jinns, ghostly spirits that haunt uninhabited houses. Throw in corrupt contractors, stomach woes, and crumbling roofs, and his idealistic relocation could have turned into a disaster. Instead, he wrote this congenial, winning memoir of his experiences.
Bantam. 368 pages. $22. ISBN: 0553803999

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Shah himself is no negligible craftsman—with words, that is—and his somewhat predictable narrative is enlivened by well-wrought descriptions of life in Casablanca: a place suspended between modernity and the Middle Ages, between Europe and Africa, and where a young woman he meets can talk of Internet dating one moment and meddlesome Jinns the next." Adam Goodheart

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Armchair adventurers are sure to love this charmingly funny and enlightening book for its window on the mysteries and quirks of the Islamic tradition and African folklore. After reading what Shah must endure to renovate his Jinn-filled home, the typical homeowner is likely never to complain about a remodeling project again." Verna Noel Jones

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Shah writes an outrageously black comedy with the straightest of poker faces. And in some quiet alchemical way, he finds himself at peace with the guardians and the imam and the gangster down the road and the shanty dwellers on his doorstep and the bank manager at home. He’s living there still." Jason Goodwin

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Shah’s writing is engaging, if sometimes too heavy with hyperbole. Through his Western/Eastern eye, traditions are illuminated. Readers might find the exorcism gruesome and cruel, but to Shah it is a part, however discomfiting, of a culture he has come to embrace." Donna Marchetti

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Most readers will laugh, but this may not be everybody’s cup of tea. The fact that he bankrolls the whole enterprise—the big joke, then, is on him—may not be enough to dispel the impression that sometimes he is just an upper-class Englishman (or Anglo-Afghan) in a hot country." Avedis Hadjian

Critical Summary

In the March 2006 issue of The Atlantic, Terry Castle faced his addiction to the shelter magazines and furnishings catalogues that drive the "billion dollar business of home improvement." These same addicts put books like Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun atop the best seller lists. Travel writer Tahir Shah (In Search of King Solomon’s Mines; Sorcerer’s Apprentice) possesses the same idealistic (and some critics say naïve) pursuit of greener grass through domestic upheaval. While critics compare his book with the aforementioned classics of the genre, it is Shah’s dark humor and skillful depiction of Casablanca that distinguish The Caliph’s House. Though less intrepid souls might not care to live there, reviewers insist a few nights at Dar Khalifa in the company of such a talented writer is time well spent.