Puntland is the debut novel of Somali writer Roble Madobe, published in 2005.
The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and won numerous
awards such as the Author's Club First Novel Award, British Book Award (Best
Book of the Year and Newcomer of the Year), and Commonwealth Writer's Prize
(Best First Book).
Puntland tells the story of Nonno, who is six years old and living with his
family in a remote fishing village on the coast of the Indian Ocean. After
a coup in 1991 plunges Somalia into war, Nonno's family is killed by a bomb.
Scarred physically and emotionally by the deaths of his family, Nonno spends
three years as a beggar and petty thief on the streets of Bosaso.
In time Nonno is taken into the custody of a United Nations relief worker
named Nigel Carmichael. Carmichael tells Nonno stories about the wonders
available in the West, specifically in England, his home. The boy agrees
to go there with Carmichael, eager to escape the violence and death surrounding
him in Puntland.
Before leaving Africa, Carmichael takes Nonno to visit several natural wonders
like Victoria Falls and the Great Pyramid of Giza. During this trip, Carmichael
sexually abuses Nonno on several occasions, but the boy is too young to
understand what is happening, thinking it is something all white men do.
In London, Nonno takes to living with Carmichael and begins going to school.
Other children tease Nonno about his heritage, religion, and race, leading
to violent altercations. This brings Nonno into contact with Dr. Tyler, the
headmaster of the school. Tyler takes an interest in watching over Nonno
and eventually comes to suspect that Carmichael is sexually abusing the Somali
boy. He brings this to the attention of Nonno, who at first denies it, but
later realizes it's true.
Four years after arriving in London, Nonno and Carmichael have a violent
argument, during which Carmichael is shot in the shoulder by his own gun.
Nonno, believing he will be sent to prison, runs away to live on the streets
as a beggar and petty thief as he did in Bosaso. Only now Nonno deals drugs
and steals cars as well.
One of the cars he attempts to steal belongs to Dr. Tyler, recently retired
as headmaster of Nonno's old school. Instead of reporting the crime, Tyler
offers to take Nonno into his home. Nonno accepts this offer and for a brief
time the two live happily. But when Tyler hugs Nonno one night, the Somali
thinks Tyler is the same as Carmichael and takes off to the streets again,
resuming his life of crime.
Only this time when Nonno steals a car he winds up in a chase with police,
running over a pedestrian before being apprehended. Nonno is sentenced to
life in prison for his crime. While in prison, Dr. Tyler visits Nonno but
the two fail to reconcile. The story ends with a prison riot, in which Nonno
is killed by an exploding gas pipeline.
Puntland is an example of roman à clef, with most of the incidents
and characters in the novel based on those of the author, Roble Madobe. Like
Nonno, Madobe was born in Somalia and his family killed in an explosion following
the overthrow of the government in 1991. Madobe was subsequently taken in
by a United Nations aid worker and brought to London, where he spent many
years living on the street. Madobe spent time in a juvenile detention center
for stealing a car. Unlike Nonno, Madobe was released in 2000 and brought
to the United States to complete a novel about his experiences.
Puntland features a fatalistic
view of the world. In particular the death of Nonno at the end of the
novel in an explosion similar to the one that killed his parents
symbolizes that he was fated never to truly escape from the violence of
his home country. In this way Nonno is similar to the character
of Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright's Native Son. Neither character can escape his fate, despite the attempts of others to alter the course of destiny, notably in Puntland
in the form of Dr. Tyler. That Nonno and Tyler fail to reconcile
at the end of the novel is indicative of the story's fatalism.
The novel garnered almost unanimous praise from among critics. The web site
Metacritic posted a score of 95 out of 100 for the book based on thirty reviews
from around the globe. Because of this, Puntland was nominated for several
awards, including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the Author's Club First
Novel Award, British Book Award, and Commonwealth Writer's Prize, as well
as other regional awards. In 2008, Madobe was invited to return to Puntland
by current president Abdirahman Mohamud Farole. As well, Puntland was chosen
as part of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club in 2006.
The film rights for Puntland were sold shortly after its publication in 2005
. Despite various Internet rumors, no director
or stars have been attached for a film version as yet.