The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah

Doesn’t it sound glorious? You pack up the family and move to a mansion in another country, get to know the locals, experience various mishaps that you laugh about later, turn the dilapidated estate into the home of your dreams, and write a book about it. This has just about turned into its own genre. And while I rather enjoy it, not all books in this category are equal. Fortunately, Tahir Shah’s book, The Caliph’s House, is among the best of its type. Unfortunately, it is entirely Unsafe for animal lovers. If you are sensitive to the treatment of animals, you may want to read The Caliph’s House anyway, but be forewarned that there are some cringe-inducing scenes involving animals.

It’s not Shah’s fault, by the way: he’s just reporting what he experienced. The Washington Post described the book as a “black comedy,” and that is correct. Shah is Afghani by heritage and lived in London for many years, which is presumably where he made the fortune that allowed him to purchase the wreck of a home that he and his family moved into. In Morocco, there is a belief that an empty building attracts Jinns, which are invisible spirits that seem to rule most aspects of Moroccan life. It’s all well and good that Shah doesn’t believe in them — the workers who refurbish his new home, the three guards who seem to come with the property, and his indispensible majordomo, Kamal, all believe. So Shah is held hostage to the whims of the Jinn whether or not he believes. I’d head back to London, but Shah is more intrepid than that. Plus, I believe he sees this as a test by the locals (a common theme in the big-house/strange-country genre).

Anyway, this blog exists in part to tell animal lovers whether they’ll be upset by a book due to violence against animals. And as much as I otherwise loved The Caliph’s House, I found it out-and-out creepy in regard to the treatment of animals. Sheep must be killed to placate the Jinn, Shah comes across cats that are killed as a warning to him, Moroccan boys torment squirrels and other animals, a bull is killed, more sheep are killed, etc., etc. It’s pretty ugly.

I still liked the book and recommend it to those who think they can deal with the animal issues.

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June 8, 2008 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, travel | , , , , , , ,

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