A Review of Tahir Shah's The Caliph's House


           Anyways, let's drop any kind of hindrances aside and let me start by pouring out the whole feelings, inquiries and responses which accompanied me while and after reading the Caliph's House by Tahir Shah. To tell you the truth I was reluctant for a long time to do any readings which might be related to contemporary writers of which I label Tahir Shah. The only reason behind this tendency is the idea that most of those writers don't really labor, strife and writhe to come up with a linguistically well-sustained fictitious piece of writing similar to those classical masterpieces such as Moby Dick, Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, Heart of Darkness, Sons and Lovers, Wuthering Heights and the list is long. I used to find any contemporary fiction devoid of any deep linguistic or meaningfessence, but I have to admit that nowadays I totally changed this way of judging when I was introduced to contemporary writers such as Milan Kundera, Nafisi Araz, Tahir Shah, Don DeLillo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and others. Oh, I drifted again. Sometimes it's so hard for me to strictly control the reins of my aesthetic pathos, but never mind.

        Yeah, to The Caliph's House now, at last. My own responses are liable to be different from any of the groups members being a citizen of and subject in the country where the story of the book took place. I must admit right from the very beginning that Tahir had managed to a great extent to draw a general cultural miniature of the Moroccan society relying on his own westerner/foreigner experience in Casablanca.I was even astonished to find out that he managed to penetrate into some very distinctive features of our own society which we as Moroccans try to shun or negate or somehow camouflage for their own insolence or villainess. Examples of those things are the drastic belief in superstitions, witchcraft and Jinns in particular in such modern times as these. Yet, I still find these somehow degenerate features which the westerner finds impossible to believe in kind of specific distinctive cultural features which defines a society in the eyes of another. Of course these beliefs have receded in a way or another because of the huge post-modern globalized shape of the present world.

        I loved the smooth recounting of the story and I admire the genuine descriptions of all the Moroccan characters which happened to cross Tahir's way. I loved the authenticity of forming judgments and drawing conclusion whenever faced with an unbelievable incident and I admired most of all his willingness to quest, inquire and seek explanations for matters which his western mind couldn't grasp in such short periods of time. I remember his strife to cope with the guards who tried to give metaphysical explanations to matter which human experiment could easily answer.I Liked his humanness and humanitarian feeling which he showed throughout the novel whenever one of his guards fell in a critical situation or the way he befriended and support the stamps collector.

             The belief in jinns as invisible existent spirits pervades the Moroccan culture because they were mentioned basically in the most holy referential book which is the Koran. I addition to that theological basis some people have been through real concrete experiences where they saw the jinns either taking some vessels somewhere or smacking some members of their families or haunting someone or simply situation where light is switched on or off by itself. Most of the Moroccan people believe in jinns either because they've seen them in reality through concrete experiences, the slamming of a door as soon as one gets out by a power unseen for example,or these kind of beliefs are infused in them by mere cultural subconscious. I believe personally in them thought I consider myself a post-modern fellow because I've seen and lived through situations where it is impossible to call for any scientific experimental explanation. Human mind is still limited to a certain sphere where it revolves no matter how far we went in our scientific discoveries and we must accept this truth. There are other reasons behind many existential phenomena which our brains fail to prove or experiment.

        Concerning the aphorisms accompanying each new chapter I think it's in a way hard for anybody not acquainted with Moroccan culture to associate them with anything inside the chapters. The aphorisms might seem out of place because they are culturally loaded and they need to be understood particularly inside a range of Moroccan cultural contexts. I personally grasped their meanings and associated them with particular incidents inside each chapter and I am just inquiring about you, the other readers of the same work of fiction!! Yet, I must admit that some of those aphorisms are in a way far-fetched and they don't necessarily comply with the general meaning of the chapter, as an example I cite "trust in god, but tie your camel well" in chapter ten. As for the illustrations as a technique or rather tool used to emphasize and shed much more light on the incidents they are perfectly in the right place and they perfectly blend with the cultural features described in the novel.

           Yeah, it gets kind of hazy and muzzy whenever we try to come up with the reasons behind Tahir's willingness to let things drift as they had to. I still wonder about the reasons which pushed him not to manage everything with a strong grip. I believe that if a person happens to be the boss, he is supposed to reign over his subject with firmness and make his word heard, which was just the opposite with Tahir. I think the reason behind this is his primary bewilderment which he experienced when he first set foot on such a monumental propriety as the Caliph's House. He was astonished with all that he came to possess and he thought that everything would go as smooth as it used to be thinking about himself as a post-modern new successor of Haroun Rashid 's palace with all its Harem, slaves, cooks and diverse entourage.

          All in all, The Caliph's House remains one of those novels which mix autobiographical data with historical factual incidents in an attempt to reflect those unavoidable confrontations that take place due to cultural differences. It is a daring and detailed account of the real life experience of a western in an eastern setting. The reading of this novel should be succeed for a complete vision of  Moroccan culture  by others readings such as A House in Fez by Suzanna Clarke and  In Arabian Nights by the same author.