review: the caliph's house

28 July 2012

book info:
ages: 14 and up
grades: 8-9, years: 10 and up
on sale: now
copy from: library
publisher: bantam
pages: 349

title: The Caliph's House
author: Tahir Shah

photo: goodreads
(goodreads) In the tradition of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge–and nothing is as easy as it seems….

Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he and his wife, Rachana, had, Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph, or spiritual leader.

With its lush grounds, cool, secluded courtyards, and relaxed pace, life at Dar Khalifa seems sure to fulfill Tahir’s fantasy–until he discovers that in many ways he is farther from home than he imagined. For in Morocco an empty house is thought to attract jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world. The ardent belief in their presence greatly hampers sleep and renovation plans, but that is just the beginning. From elaborate exorcism rituals involving sacrificial goats to dealing with gangster neighbors intent on stealing their property, the Shahs must cope with a new culture and all that comes with it.

I had seen raving reviews about this book, and was intrigued. I've fallen in love with Middle Eastern culture, and have myself knowledge of it's beauty and richness. So I thought, wow! Now, I've never really been into "biographical" sort of books, but I, craving Middle Eastern books, decided to read it anyway.

Upon getting through the first few pages, I was bored. Mr Shah just writing about buying house and moving and blah blah blah. Yet, I don't know what force compelled me to keep reading, but I did. I can say that I truly did enjoy it, and even more so knowing that it wasn't fiction, but that these people really do exist and their actions happened and so on. 

Monsieur Tahir is truly wired like a writer. His conversations, instead of saying "Oh...okay" when people say strange things, he inquires, He asks "why?" and "what?" and in return gets very interesting, and intruiging answers. These answers kept me alive throughout the books, as well as the strange culture of Jinns. It's like the very heart of Morocco, the heart of Islam. Jinns. I immediately thought of genies, like from Aladdin's lamps, yet these Jinns are different. I, like Monsieur Tahir, was skeptical at first. In fact, I still don't believe in them, yet, like Monsieur Tahir, they enchanted me. And played a central role actually. I love how this book introduced me to Arabian culture and Morocco's vibrant way of living. More than anything, I've become enchanted with the land even though I've never been there before.

The writing was well done, and I think that if it were any other author, that this delicate story would have been destroyed. It's strikes a good combination of story, description, and poetry. The only reason I didn't like it, I guess, was the lack of...adventure. I know, it's a "historical novel" and that there isn't going to be a grand adventure. I guess because this takes span over a year, and not a lifetime like The Kite Runner or something. If only it had been longer than a year, no? But nonetheless, it's a good book! It wasn't "Ohmygosh!" and it wasn't "Meh". Somewhere in between, so I give it three and a half trees.

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