Bought 30 July 2009 – Waterstones 3-for-2

This was a lovely, magical book.  Shah, already acclaimed author of The Caliph’s House, about restoring an old house in Morocco, is a wanderer – originally his family is from Pakistan but his father brought them out to the UK and then to North Africa, which he felt reflected his homeland’s atmosphere and culture.  Shah is a writer, thinker and film-maker, and it’s this last that gets him into trouble, when he is arrested in the paranoia post-7/7 and thrown into a torture jail somewhere in Pakistan.  As he languishes in jail, more and more prepared to die, he falls back on the stories his father used to tell him, ancient traditional folk tales such as the Arabian Nights, with shifting and deepening layers of meaning.

After managing to be set free, Shah sets about looking for these stories and their story-tellers around Morocco, searching for the story in his heart, trying to pass on the stories and their layers and importance to his small children, and, not least, trying to appease his wife as the Guardians of their house speak of jinns, ghosts and the need for all kinds of peculiar rituals. 

The narrative is almost dreamy but also realistic and human.  Shah presents his own fears and misses in comprehension, and paints a powerful and lively portrait of a beautiful country.  Wonderful stuff and a highlight of the year already.