Book Review: The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah

Book Review: The Caliph's House

Author Tahir Shah had the entire TravelCon audience laughing non-stop from the moment he took the stage. Unlike the previous year, in which I attempted to read a book by each of the speakers so I would be familiar with their work and who they were, this year I did just the opposite. Due to time constraints, I had not read any works by the keynote speakers so I had no idea who Shah was or what he’d written when he stepped to the podium. While I appreciated the previous speakers and added their books to my To-Be-Read list, I knew long before Shah was done talking that I had to buy one of his books and get it signed after the talk. If he wrote the same way he talked, his books had to be funny. I was not disappointed.

Tahir Shah at Travel Con Insta Story

Tahir Shah at Travel Con Instagram Story

The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah
Published by Bantam, 2006
Genre/s: Memoir, Travel
Where it takes place: Casablanca, Morocco
Purchase The Caliph's House via Amazon

Purchase The Caliph’s House via IndieBound or Amazon

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Quick Summary

This book is the true story (I use truth loosley, I think the author may have stretched the truth in some cases) of the year the author moved his family from Britain to Morocco, purchased a fixer-upper house in Casablanca, and the trouble he had trying to get it renovated. Between the characters that show up to work on the house, the personal assistant the author hires, and the guardians (3 men) he inherited with the house and their superstitions, it’s very entertaining.

About the Author / Context of the Book

Shah is a British national of Afgani heritage who grew up in Morocco. He moved his own wife and kids to Morocco from Britain because he missed the colorful life Morocco provides compared to the dull gray of Britain. Not only in the decor and surroundings, but the culture allows for more creativity and storytelling. He lives there now in the renovated house which he wrote about in The Caliph’s House.

During his TravelCon keynote he spoke about growing up in a household where everyone told stories. He said his father would start telling stories to anybody that would listen. Now-famous authors would stop by the house and help with chores while telling stories. He told us about time he spent in a Pakistani torture prison and kept his collegues company through telling them stories every evening. And he told us about living in Morocco and navigating a culture that believes in trouble causing genies. And all of this was delivered in the almost dead-pan, dry way that only the British can deliver humor.

Extras

(AND HE HAS A PERSONAL LIBRARY BEHIND A DOOR HIDDEN BY A BOOKSHELF!!)

Contact the author

Places To Visit Inspired By The Book

Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakech, Morocco

My Thoughts

My dad always says, “Never let the facts ruin a good story.” I think this author has taken that mantra to heart. As the reader, I could never quite tell if or when the narrator was stretching the truth. There were times I guessed he was, but it was too funny to matter. While much of the humor comes at the expense of frustrating situations the author experienced, he approaches the matters in hindsight with a sense of humor akin to Bill Bryon, with sarcastic wit that will have you laughing out loud and reading passages to anybody nearby that will listen.

In all honesty, the book didn’t exactly have me itching to book a ticket to Morocco immediately, or at least not without hiring a guide first. While I definitely never want to get involved with employing Moroccan craftsmen after reading this account, it also seems having a local who can navigate you through shopping, transportation, and any other interactions with locals whom you might need to bargain with or owe money to is definitely the way to go. Although, I would hope that my guide would be a little more sane than the personal assistant Shah allegedly hired, according to the book.

I highly recommend this book, and then go watch the videos on the author’s YouTube channel. While reading about this particular house renovation, you are certain that the house will not only never be finished, but that even if it is, it will all collapse as soon as it’s done, much like the second story that was built with no support and came crashing down mid-project. Seeing the finished result in the author’s video tour is quite astounding after reading the book.

Favorite Quotes

“In Morocco, the more insane the artist, the better he knows his craft. It will take time to find a truly disturbed team to work here at the Caliph’s House.”

(p. 144)

“You never heard a word of praise for Casablanca. It was the butt of every joke, the place people came to but never admitted coming from. No one belonged there. But at the same time, we all belonged.”

(p. 315)

About the Marrakech medina, an emporium of art and crafts:

“[…] the narrow streets are packed through the long dusty days with a frenzied tangle of life.”

(p. 334)

“I concluded that a life not filled with severe learning curves was no life at all.”

(p. 340)

My Rating

Let’s Talk!

Have you read any of Tahir Shah’s books? Have you visited Morocco? Are you a fan of dry British humor? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

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