Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review – The Caliph’s House (Tahir Shah)

The Caliph’s House was a book written by Shah when he took the decision to move his family from the security and dullness of life in England to a new life in Morocco. Shah buys a haunted palace called Dar Khalifa (the Caliph’s House) in the middle of a Casablanca bidonville (slum) and the book documents the struggles the family has trying to adjust to life in an unfamiliar country.

Dar Khalifa is a rambling, ancient house, opulent and filled with the ghosts of times gone by. Shah has a passion for the Moroccan way of life and thinking and he readily agrees to any number of insane suggestions from the three caretakers he inherited with the house to get rid of the jinns, much to the distress of his long-suffering wife, Rachana.

After a string of bad luck affects the house and its occupants, an ostentatious exorcism is performed, to Rachana’s horror and the delight of the guardians. But the book is far more than just a story about fixing up a house. It delivers clever insight into the real spirit of Morocco – its people.

The friendships that Shah develops over time in Casablanca are qualitatively different to the acquaintances he had made in London, and he finds himself living life at a somewhat slower pace – and exploring the somewhat esoteric cultural beliefs of his new countrymen on the way.

The book has plenty of both quirky and profound moments and will leave you with a strong desire to visit Morocco yourself, if only to see if will affect you in the same way.

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