Review: A House in Fez: Building a life in the ancient heart of Morocco by Suzanna Clarke

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A House in Fez was originally published in 2007 by Suzanna Clarke. Clarke is an Australian reporter who decided to buy a few-hundred-year-old riad (one of the traditional styled homes) in Fez and then restore it to it’s former glory. Through the book, she recounts the trials of restoring the home and navigating the Moroccan culture.

Ironically, Clarke needed to learn to adjust her own expectations. She couldn’t speak either languages spoken in Morocco, French and Darija, which is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, and decided to learn French first because it was the language she already knew the most of. Unfortunately, it meant she still often had to rely on translators to help her with many things such as getting government forms for the renovations.

Clarke also went in mistrusting the locals at times but eventually learned how to navigate it better. To be fair, some people really did try to take advantage of her, but I can see why this would have put some readers off if it seemed like she was looking down her nose at people. I, personally, understood her view (even if it came off the wrong way to some readers). By the end of the book, she had met many local people and was dancing with them at parties and had better learned how to navigate the different social world in Morocco. I thought it was really interesting to see how she progressed culturally.

This also connects to how much she expressed that she didn’t want to be one of those westerners who only ever talked to other westerners while living in Morocco. At first, I think she sort of talked to more westerners, but eventually she got to know the locals better.

To me, it seems like a very intense choice to buy a house in a country with a really different culture, customs, and where you can’t even speak the language. The language barrier alone would make it seem impossibly difficult and it would definitely take time to learn. It must have been a blessing to have the help of David, Jenny and her husband to help because they were already more familiar with the customs and how to navigate the bureaucratic processes involved with restoring a house and they were able to help Clarke bridge this very big and new experience.

I thought that the experience was really interesting to read about. I feel like Clarke put a lot of effort into learning about, becoming involved with and sharing Moroccan culture and about her experiences there. It made me think about how cool it would be to do something similar with a house, but closer to home – maybe even in Canada. I also think it is an intriguing insight to Morocco from the perspective of an outsider who’s gotten to know the culture and loves it there. I felt like I could feel her love for the culture shining through and that Morocco seems like a lovely and vibrant country that I would like to visit someday.

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