Sick of living in London, writer and journalist Tahir Shah and his family uproot themselves and move to Casablanca, Morocco, a coastal city made famous by the 1942 movie of the same name. The Caliph’s House chronicles their first year in Casablanca, from uncovering family history to dealing with a house renovation dragging on ridiculously to becoming accustomed to local superstitions. This book is a slow burner, an amazing story wrapped in myth and craft, where Western and Eastern cultures collide.
The Good: My favorite character in The Caliph’s House is by far Morocco itself. Tahir Shah comes from London, so every experience he has with the local customs is just as fascinating (and, sometimes, infuriating) as it would be to any Westerner entering the country for the first time. From dealing with Moroccan artisans—who epitomize “You can’t rush art”—to keeping a local gangster at bay to ridding his house of djinns, Shah pulls the reader into the story and directly into the rich, cultural heart of Morocco.
The Meh: Like I said earlier, this book is a slow burner. Shah takes his time drawing out the different stories involved, such as renovating his house and his relationships with the locals, but this does mirror how his experiences are stretched over the course of the year.
The Take: Leigh Bardugo has this nugget of advice for aspiring writers:
Read outside of your comfort zone. You can learn about story and language from every genre and it will help you develop your own voice.
The Caliph’s House being nonfiction alone puts it outside of my reading comfort zone, and I’ll be completely honest with you, there were points in the chapters where I wasn’t sure if I were reading fact or fiction. What Shah does offer is a unique look into a faraway part of the world and the amazing, intriguing culture residing there.