In that time, I've gotten through my first Philippa Gregory book, "The Virgin's Lover," loved it, then started a book that has been infuriating me from its first few pages. "The Caliph's House," by Tahir Shah, is a book about this guy, Tahir Shah, who one day decides to leave his somewhat cushy life in England for a more exotic life in Morocco. He takes his pregnant wife and little daughter, and they move into a house they purchased on a whim in a shantytown in the well-known Moroccan city of Casablanca.
I admire anybody who leaves a cushy life anywhere for an exotic one anywhere. Except for Shah.
The problem with this book, and with Shah specifically, is that in the bit of the book I've managed, with difficulty, to get through (I'm on page 122), Shah has written himself out to be a narrow-minded westerner, who has no interest in really being a part of Moroccan culture, but rather treats the place as a sort of novelty to look at and study, preferring to stay within the palace-like house he is having renovated by a local architect and his motley crew, criticizing everything from Moroccan culture and norms to Moroccans themselves.
There are several ways that Shah infuriates me with his observations, which, to be fair, are his opinions, but his opinions are too arrogant, proving further that he's not interested in really living an exotic life, that he just wants to continue living his cushy life in an exotic place. Nowhere is this more evident than when one of the three men he refers to as "the guardians" who came packaged with the house comes to him with the bad news that the government would be tearing down the shantytown where the guardians as well as he are residents.
"Since moving to Casablanca, I had secretly hoped that the shantytown that surrounded the oasis of Dar Khalifa would be bulldozed, and that upmarket villas would replace them." (p.63)More than arrogance, Shah emanates ignorance and insensitivity to sensitive subjects in the most uncouth way. Again, these are opinions, but they infuriate me all the same, making me dislike the book and its author for being so crass.
"As far as the guardians were concerned, Dar Khalifa's proximity to a mosque was more than fortuitous... To me, the raspy voice, amplifed through an old loudspeaker, was more of an irritation than a blessing." (p. 19)Shah's irritation with such a staple presence in any Islamic society, as Morocco is, is the equivalent of someone being irritated by church bells at the Vatican. It just shows how he just doesn't get it, or much of anything about where he's decided to have an adventure, which clearly he's just not all that interested in having. He's more interested in owning something he couldn't possibly own with his means in England; a house with about twenty rooms, an endless garden, a tennis court and a large swimming pool among other things.
Now, as a Muslim myself, I suppose I could be biased when it comes to Shah finding the muezzin, the raspy voice calling people to prayer five times a day irritating, but regardless of that, Shah's view of the different set of beliefs, or beliefs period, are bordering on disrespectful. He does try to disguise his unflattering opinions and observations poorly as "An outrageously black comedy [written] with the straightest of poker faces," (Washington Post Book World), but in my rather humbled, perhaps biased opinion, he fails. I am a big fan of black comedy and dark humor, and I see no such thing in this book...Shah writes nothing more than his own arrogance.
Now, provided that the superstitions Moroccans have about Jinn, otherworldly creatures discussed in the Quran, are a little crazy even to me as a Muslim who believes in their existence, they are nonetheless beliefs that are shared by an entire culture, therefore, Shah should be a little less dismissive of the Moroccan sincere belief that they each have Jinn attached to them, who must be appeased with lavish dishes prepared with the best meat and other offerings in order to prevent their wrath and evil.
I am taking into account that I may be biased, but after reading several reviews, only a few of which are negative, I've found that the few who gave it less than five stars out of five are people who voice my own opinions and have made the same observations I have about the true spirit of Tahir Shah in making that big move to a land much too complicated for his simple mind.
Also, I don't understand why instead of pictures of Dar Khalifa and the shantytown in Casablanca, we are given shoddy sketches that mean nothing to the reader who would like to see the oasis Shah seems to prefer over all of Morocco.
I can only hope that in the next 200 pages Shah's attitude is adjusted and his arrogance dissipates to make way for a more wholesome and appreciative stance.