The Caliph’s House – Book Review

Posted on June 19, 2011


The Caliph’s House is a travel book by Anglo-Afghan author, Tahir Shah.

One of my favorite books based on Morocco. The process of buying a property and the association with the local community rings so many bells to my own experiences. Likewise …. look out for the passage about “freeing the animals” (I won’t spoilt it through elaboration)… a magic moment. Simon Hawkesley – Editor.


The Caliph's House "a year in Casablance" by Tahir Shah

Unwilling to raise his two infant children in England, Tahir Shah drags them and his Indian-born wife to Morocco, where he traveled as a child. It was there that his grandfather, the savant Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah, passed the last decade of his life (he moved to Tangier after his wife died in 1960, declaring that he would go to a land where they had never been together). Shah’s father was equally obsessed with Morocco, largely it seems because it reminded him of his native Afghanistan, in terms of the culture, climate and geography.

Arriving in 2004, Shah and his family move into a Jinn-filled mansion in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown. The house, named Dar Khalifa, (which translated as ‘The Caliph’s House), describes in detail the highs and lows of the relocation to what was essentially an unfamiliar country. The house came equipped with three hereditary guardians, who control every facet of life, straining to remind the Shahs of the danger of the Jinn. Eventually a grand exorcism was acted out, with the slaughter of animals and so forth, to the delight of the guardians.

The Caliph’s House was published in 2006 on both sides of the Atlantic, and has been followed by a series of translations in a number of languages, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swedish and Dutch. The wide appeal of this book seems to be the way in which it imparts (albeit in a humorous way) a deeper understanding of Arab culture—which is of interest in the post-9/11 world. The sequel, In Arabian Nights, picks up where this book leaves off.

The Caliph’s House was nominated as one of TIME magazine’s 10 Best Books of 2006.  The book is to be the basis for a feature film, written and directed by identical twin Hollywood writers Chad and Carey Hayes.

You can buy this book through (Click here)

TODAY: Tahir Shah writes his thoughts, for The Guardian, on Marrakech post Cafe Argana.

After the Arab Spring: the view from Morocco

The Casablanca-based writer and film-maker visits Marrakech where tourists are staying away and there are bargains to be had

Riad Laksiba: Square deal … the courtyard of an atmospheric riad in Marrakech. Photograph: Simon Hawkesley


Tahir Shah

The Guardian, Sat 18 Jun 2011 00.05 BST

Morocco is a kingdom very different from its neighbours. There’s no deranged dictator or marshal law and, most of the time, the tourist favourite makes the news for all the right reasons. The Arab Spring has passed Morocco by, but that doesn’t mean the kingdom hasn’t had its share of trouble.
On 28 April, the popular Café Argana in the heart of Marrakech was ripped apart by a terrorist bomb. Both tourists and locals were killed in an event that sent shockwaves through the country, the region, and beyond. The immediate result was that the city suffered terribly from cancellations. After all, tourism is based on perceived safety.
Last week I drove to Marrakech from my home in Casablanca, to see the effect of the explosion for myself. I had been sitting at Café Argana just five days before the bomb, and had been amazed then at the huge numbers of European tourists. In the great square of Djemaa el-Fna, which the cafe overlooks, the visitors were packed in cheek by jowl.
Visiting again, I was shocked by the complete change in this former tourist honeypot. Gone were the crowds of lobster-red British and the French people. Where they had been shuffling forward past the acrobats and storytellers, the sun-baked flagstones were bare.
I got talking to a snake-charmer wearing a thick woollen djellaba robe. He had a fatigued-looking cobra hooked around his neck, and the roughest hands I’ve ever seen. “Tourists are like pigeons,” he said, jabbing a thumb out to the square. “One bang and they all fly away – roost somewhere else. But like all birds they’ll be back. I promise you that.”
At the edge of the square, a policeman offered me a glass of sweet mint tea. In a thick accent, he whispered: “Tell your countrymen that Marrakech is the safest place in the world. Marrakech good. No problem in Marrakech!”
As I wandered around, I realised that he was quite right. After all, there’s nowhere so safe as a city in the wake of an isolated terrorist bomb. Tourism is Marrakech’s bread and butter, so no stone has been left unturned in keeping foreign visitors safe.
But, even better still, with tourists cancelling in their droves, there’s nowhere that can boast more impressive deals. Boutiquey little riads in the medina’s labyrinth are offering prices of lifetime, as are some of the high-end hotels in the new town.
At Winston Churchill’s glorious old favourite, La Mamounia – renovated to perfection two years ago – I met a couple from Bath. They had matching Panamas and perma-tans. The husband, Rory, glanced listlessly up from his newspaper. “Safe as houses out here old boy,” he said in a clipped tone. “Got in last night. Bloody brilliant. Booked as soon as we heard about the bomb.”
I asked Rory if he wasn’t just a little bit nervous. “Nervous of what?” he replied with a gasp. “If I want to be nervous of something, I’ll attempt to cross the road at Marble Arch !