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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).

Plot Summary

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.

Critical Reaction

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.

Film Adaptation

The film rights for Puntland were sold shortly after its publication in 2005 [citation needed]. Despite various Internet rumors, no director or stars have been attached for a film version as yet.