The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah


Jill's take on The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah

The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah was another book that Zac found in one of our riad's in Morocco. I have enjoyed finding books that are very location specific. I can't really think of many books that I've read about a particular place while being in that place. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed this book as much if I had not been in Morocco when reading it or had experienced the culture before. That being said, I think there's enough in this book to identify with even if you've not been to Morocco nor tried to renovate a house.

As I read the book,  I found myself laughing along with the discussions about bartering, the mass consumption of tea, how long it seems to take Moroccan's to finish something and the talk of jinn.

Sadly, we didn't get to have many discussions with Moroccan's about the jinn, but I was so happy to see that their presence figured prominently in this book. We had been told that Moroccan's believe in jinn because it is written in the Qu'ran. This book confirms this assertion and deftly illustrates how one's beliefs influence one's behavior.

The Caliph's House is full of tales of cultural misunderstandings and frustrations along the road to integration. It brings up the question of whether or not one can truly integrate or if there is always going to be an "almost but not quite" aspect to life in another country. I certainly felt "other" while in Morocco; I absolutely did not look like I was a local. In conversations with others I learned that there are different sets of rules and expectations for foreigners and no matter how long you've been in the culture they always see you as "other". This book wonderfully illustrates this phenomenon and the difficulty of navigating different cultures.

I truly enjoyed this book and loved reading the tales of cultural collision and woes of homeownership. It has definitely caused me to think a little bit more on my obsession with buying a building in a foreign country and converting it. Maybe easier said than done.


Zac's take on The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah

I found myself totally bookless in Tangier, our last stop on our month long tour of Morocco. This never really happens as we nearly always have something on hand to read, or are in a city with one bookstore with at least one shelf of books in English.

But this wasn't the case. We only had a few days in Tangier before heading to Barcelona, but I just couldn't wait. So I went to the lobby of the riad and scoured the shelves for anything that wasn't a guidebook on Morocco. I was desperate, but not THAT desperate. 

I found The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah, took it back to our room and immediately started reading it. It has a comforting ease to it that totally sucked me in. I found myself laughing and nodding at familiar scenes from our previous month in Morocco. I'm not sure I would have ever picked this book up had I not been desperate. 

I would have glossed over this book based entirely on the cover and the subject matter. What interest do I have in a man who moves his family from England to Morocco and starts to rehabilitate an old mansion? It's different when you've been there as you can see and hear and smell and taste everything he is talking about in the novel. 

To me this is what travel is about - finding yourself in situations where you have to make due with whatever is available, and quite often (as is the case with this novel) everything turns out quite well!