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Authors: Nuruddin Farah


BOOK: Crossbones

Praise for Nuruddin Farah and

“Politically courageous and often gripping…
provides a sophisticated introduction to present-day Somaila, and to the circle of poverty and violence that continues to blight the country.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Mesmerizing…A searing look at individuals caught in the chaos of anarchy.”

The Daily Beast

“Often reads like a taut, tense thriller…a thought-provoking read as well as an absorbing look into a culture and a people in extreme circumstances.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Farah’s accomplishment is, through art, showing us both the value and the devaluing of life through the machinations of historical, political and social power.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Adopts an almost thriller-like realism to give an account of modern-day Somalia…
is well worth the read.”

The Boston Globe

“Combines an intimate dissection of power within the family with a strong dose of skepticism about the machinations of national and global power.”

The Economist

“Vivid and detailed…[Farah’s] understanding of human relationships is spot-on, as are the twists and turns in this suspenseful drama.”


“[Farah] writes beautifully about his native Somalia.”

The Millions

“Fiercely critical, ruefully funny, profoundly compassionate…humanizes the dire complexities inherent to a place fractured by perpetual violence, corruption, outside exploitation, bone-deep poverty, and fanaticism. A writer of charm, wit, conscience, and penetrating vision, Farah is a commanding and essential global writer.”


“Farah has become the voice of the Somalian diaspora, telling stories of political, religious, and family conflict without sentimentality…. Like Conrad, Farah proves a master of his adopted language, enhancing his narratives with proverbs and instances of institutionalized irrationality.”

Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“Harrowing without resorting to sensationalism, this highly topical final volume in Farah’s Past Imperfect trilogy should burnish his well-deserved reputation. [A] gripping but utterly humane thriller set in one of the least understood regions on earth.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Farah writes enthrallingly about his native Somalia…. Expect sharp insight into both human nature and sectarian strife, told in illuminating language free of cant.”

Library Journal



Nuruddin Farah is the author of ten previous novels, translated into more than twenty languages, and has won numerous awards, including the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His work has been featured in
The New Yorker
and other publications. Born in Baidoa, Somalia, he lives in Cape Town.



Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in the United States of America by Riverhead Books, a member of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2011

Published with revisions in Penguin Books 2012

Copyright © 2011 by Nuruddin Farah

All rights reserved.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to
The New Yorker,
where portions of this book previously appeared, in slightly different form.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Farah, Nuruddin, date.

  Crossbones / Nuruddin Farah.

    p.            cm.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-55210-0

1. Americans—Somalia—Fiction. 2. Mogadishu (Somalia)—Fiction.

3. Political fiction. I. Title.

PR9396.9.F3C76    2011            2011018748



Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.






Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29


gets out of a car that has just stopped. He climbs out gingerly, like a spider creeping up a crevice. He retrieves a carryall from the trunk of the car without help from the two men sitting in the front. The men are old army hands, and although they haven’t said anything to him, he knows that they do not think highly of him.

The boy slings the carryall over his shoulder, nodding his thanks to the two men in the vehicle. They look away with obvious disdain; they do not wish to acknowledge his gratitude. He smiles with youthful bravado, betraying none of his trepidation. He does not want to fail; he cannot afford to fail. He is aware of the huge difference between martyring oneself and making a blunder of things and getting killed. Of course, he does not wish to die, not unless he has fulfilled his dream.

He is small in stature, huge in ambition. On his first day as a draftee into Shabaab, the instructor, upset with him, had pulled him up by the scruff of his neck, shouting in Somali,
“Waxyahow yar!”
—“You young thing!” The sobriquet stuck, and he answers to it now. The car reverses
and he moves forward on the dirt road, his breathing heavy under the load he carries.

It is hot, and just before noon he meets a woman in a full-body tent going in the opposite direction. The woman takes an interest in him: a small-boned, four-and-a-half-foot-tall figure—a dwarf, she thinks at first—hoisting a carryall bigger and heavier than he is. She watches him as he puts the carryall down on the ground and sighs with relief. She waits for him to remove his sunglasses before she will consider peeling off her face veil or entertaining any question from him.

Deciding to be on an equal footing with him, she takes off her face veil and then crouches close enough to him, looking straight into his eyes in an effort to put him at ease. They exchange standard greetings, she addresses him in the may-peace-be-upon-you Somali greeting,
, and he, in preference, uses the Arabic equivalent:
Salaamu Calaykum

“Can I help you?” she says. “You seem lost.”

He asks her to tell him the way to the

She takes her time, wondering if he is one of the young Shabaab
assigned to do their dirty work. The poor sod must be mistaking the
—the Arabic term for the direction in which a praying Muslim faces—for north, she thinks. She wonders if he is a grown man with the voice of a boy, or a boy in the body of a man. They stand on the dirt road, in East Wardhiigley, a rundown district of Mogadiscio, sizing each other up. The woman, Cambara, is on her way to the Bakhaaraha Market; she needs a few last items for the apartment she is preparing for her guests, Jeebleh and his journalist son-in-law, Malik, arriving on the morrow. Now she lights upon a thought, studying the young thing, that maybe he is passing himself off as someone he is not, just as she puts on the body tent before she leaves the house, as part of her disguise, like a theater prop. Somali women, who never used to wear veils, resorted to them when the strife began, in 1991—a protection
from sexual harassment by armed youths. But lately, ever since 2006, when the Union of Islamic Courts took control of Mogadiscio, expanding their rule of Sharia law, veiling has become de rigueur. Women are punished if they appear in trousers or the less restrictive dresses that were common before the civil war.

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