The story takes place primarily in Somalia, a country located on the Eastern coast of Africa. The country descended into civil war in 1991 and was only recently brought under the control of a centralized government. During most of the intervening time, the country was split under the control of various warlords and militia groups, some of which are still active and trying to subvert the authority of the central government.

The vast majority of Somalians are Sunni Muslims, with some identifiying as Shia. Christians make up a minority of the population, with over 1,000 practicioner in the country.

The terrorist attack at the beginning of the novel was likely based on or inspired by the 2008 suicide bombings in Bosaso, Somalia.

Following the outbreak of the civil war, many of Somalia's residents left the country in search of asylum. By 2009, over a million people had fled the country or moved to UN refugee camps.

In 2011, a massive drought and famine struck the nation, resulting in a humanitarian crisis that killed over 150,000 people. The UN declared the crisis over in 2012.

A consequence of the collapse of government that occured as a result of the civil war was the emergence of piracy in the waters off of the coast of Somalia. The phenomenon arose as an attempt by local fishermen to protect their livelihood from illegal fishing by foreign ships.

Many people from other African countries, particularly Ethiopia, sterotype most Somalis as refugees, criminals and terrorists. These sterotypes have only become more prevalent with the increase of terror attacks conducted by Somalia's Al-Shabab terrorist group.

In most African countries, Homosexuality is severely frowned upon, if not outright illegal. Being openly gay is a jailable offense punishable by several years in prison, and, in some countries, death.

Most of the books of Nuruddin Farah take place in Ethiopia or Somalia, and deal with ethnic conflict, culture clashes and family relationships.

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