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Review: Caliph's House (Shah) and Give Away

Title: Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca
Author: Tahir Shah
Genre: Non-Fiction, travel memoir
Pages: 342
Rating: 4 out of 5
Challenges: Middle East Reading, POC
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for my Birthday from my brother
Summary (from the back of the book): In the tradition of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining, sometimes harrowing account of his family's move from foggy 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 Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah and his wife, Rachana, pack up their growing family and bought a crumbling, abandoned mansion. 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 the Shah's sleep and renovation plans--but that is just the beginning. From exorcism rituals involving sacrificial goats to dealings with gangster neighbors, they must cope with a new culture and all that comes with it.

Review: I had only seen a couple reviews of this book and they were both favorable so when I started my Middle East Reading Challenge I knew that I wanted this book to be one of the ones I read. I am interested in things Middle Eastern and I like travel memoirs so this seemed like a perfect fit for me.

This book was funny, poignant, interesting, sad, and crazy all at the same time. If I was this guy's wife I would have rebelled and moved back to London with all the crazy stuff they put up with. Actually, Shah manages to show the parts of Moroccan culture that are so completely different from western culture while showing how it works for them even if he thinks it is wrong and strange. I did wonder how much of his attitude was put on since he is Afghani and his family vacationed in Morocco while he was growing up.

I found the part about the jinns really interesting. Jinns are invisible spirits that inhabit Shah's house and, according to the Caliph's House guardians (care takers), cause all the bad things that happen. There are many rules regarding the jinns: hide your children (so the jinns don't steal them); no peeing in the night; put salt around your bed before you go to bed, etc. Eventually, Shah and his family sacrifice a goat and do 20 exorcisms and the jinns supposedly go away.

I also loved the characters that Shah collects around him: masons, carpenters and other workers who don't really work; an assistant who you really shouldn't question about his methods; the house guardians; the old stamp collector who lives in the shantytown; and more.

If you enjoy learning about new cultures, fun characters, crazy experiences, and a year of living in a world full of discovery, this is the book for you!

I have a copy of Caliph's House to give away! To enter this international give away fill in the form below. Contest ends Friday, September 10, 2010.


Athira said...

This is one book on my wishlist as well, so I was glad to see that you were giving this book away! Loved your review - can't wait to read it!

Helen's Book Blog said...

Aths--I think you'll like this one!

CGLnyc said...

Thanks for the review - I wish I had time for challenges, but school and a readalong are consuming me. Another one for the ever-growing wishlist... :)

Helen's Book Blog said...

Topher--I tried to make the Middle East Reading Challenge fairly easy: read as many or as few booksa bout the Middle East as you want. No minimum requirement! But, I totally get how school gets in the way

Giada M. said...

This sounds like a veryyyyy interesting book! Thank you for the international giveaway! :)

Giada M.

Alyce said...

I loved this book and agree - if I had been his wife I wouldn't have lasted that long!

Helen's Book Blog said...

Giada and Alyce--I really did enjoy this book, but cannot imagine putting up with all that Shah's family did!