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After exotic journeys to India, Africa, and South America, English travel writer Shah decided to settle down with his family in Casablanca in a century-old mansion known as "Dar Khalifa." But Shah's adventurous life was far from over: he soon began receiving threats from his gangster neighbor, became involved in black-market dealings, and founds himself caught up in a demonic ritual. This is nothing, though, compared with the trouble he found himself in when he began major renovations to his house. Welcome to the Moroccan world of chaos! Unsure whether to laugh or cry, Shah discovered that Moroccan workers are haunted by a deep-seated fear of the underworld and have what could best be described as an eccentric work ethic. Admirably, Shah displays considerable tolerance and respect for Moroccan traditions, even as they come in conflict with his English upbringing. Following in the footsteps of Bill Bryson and Peter Mayle, Shah recollects his real-life experiences with candor and humor. While at times his adventures seem almost too bizarre to be true, the colorful people Shah encounters will certainly entertain armchair travelers. Recommended for public libraries.-Victor Or, Vancouver & Surrey P.L., B.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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When Shah, his pregnant wife and their small daughter move from England to Morocco, where he'd vacationed as a child, he enters a realm of "invisible spirits and their parallel world." Shah buys the Caliph's House, once a palatial compound, now heavy with algae, cobwebs and termites. Unoccupied for a decade, the place harbors a willful jinni (invisible spirit), who Shah, the rational Westerner, reluctantly grasps must be exorcised by traditional means. As Shah remodels the haunted house, he encounters a cast of entertaining, sometimes bizarre characters. Three retainers, whose lives are governed by the jinni, have attached themselves to the property. Confounding craftsmen plague but eventually beautify the house. Intriguing servants come and go, notably Zohra, whose imaginary friend, a 100-foot tall jinni, lives on her shoulder. A "gangster neighbor and his trophy wife" conspire to acquire the Caliph's House, and a countess remembers Shah's grandfather and his secrets. Passers-through offer eccentricity (Kenny, visiting 15 cities on five continents where Casablanca is playing; Pete, a convert to Islam, seeking "a world without America"). There is a thin, dark post-9/11 thread in Shah's elegantly woven tale. The dominant colors, however, are luminous. "[L]ife not filled with severe learning curves was no life at all," Shah observes. Trailing Shah through his is sheer delight. Illus. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Afghan writer Shah uproots his family from the comforts of London and moves to Casablanca. There he purchases not just any house but the abandoned residence of the caliph. Undeterred by suicide bombers, jinns, and innumerable job applicants, Shah installs his family in the decrepit house and begins to restore its walls, its gardens, and its fountains. Reconstructing the house immerses Shah in Moroccan everyday life. He has to deal with plagues of rats, swarms of bees, and the ever-threatening prospect of organized crime. Shah's picture of Moroccan society, its deeply held Islamic faith, its primitive superstition, and its raucous economy makes for endlessly fascinating reading. Particularly telling is his encounter with the realities of Ramadan, which seems to bring out both the best and worst in people's characters. Shah is cautious not to judge a society different from Western expectations, and he never makes fun of the odd characters who pepper his narrative. Shah's own heritage as both Afghan and Briton blesses him with a unique and penetrating point of view. --Mark Knoblauch Copyright 2006 Booklist