Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Sembène Ousmane

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Xala

Title: Xala
Author: Sembène Ousmane
Genre: Novel
Written: 1973 (Eng. 1976)
Length: 103 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Xala - US
Xala - UK
Xala - Canada
Xala - Canada (French)
Xala - India
Xala - France
Xala - Deutschland
DVD: Xala - USA
  • French title: Xala
  • Xala was made into a film in 1975, directed by the author and starring Thierno Leye
  • Translated by Clive Wake

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B- : uneven, but has its moments and overall quite effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 9/4/1977 Eve Ottenberg
Publishers Weekly . 30/8/1976 .

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Xala begins with a celebration, as 'businessmen' (that's how Sembène puts it, too) in Senegal celebrate the election of an African to head the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry, yet another step towards being able to exert control and diminish the influence of the former colonial powers. Among the businessmen is El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye, who has even more reason to celebrate: he is getting married. He already has two wives (and eleven children between them), but these wives had lost the "savour of fresh fruit" that young N'Gone offers, and she's a temptation he can't resist.
       Wives one and two are not so thrilled by the new competition, but things turn out worse for everyone involved than expected when El Hadji finds himself unable to consummate the marriage. Everything seems in working order, but then it isn't, and the diagnosis is clear: xala ! This impotence hits him where it hurts, a blow to his ego and manhood that he doesn't know how to handle.
       Here is a man straddling two cultures:

     El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye was what one might call a synthesis of two cultures: business had drawn him into the European middle class after a feudal African education. Like his peers, he made skilful use of his dual background, for their fusion was not complete.
       A successful businessman, he knows how to work the local system. He's able to provide well for his wives, but as Sembène notes parenthetically, the modern and urban polygamy he practices differs from the traditional one:
It could be called geographical polygamy, as opposed to rural polygamy, where all the wives and children live together in the same compound. In the town, since the families are scattered, the children have little contact with their father. [...] He is therefore primarily a source of finance, when he has work. The mother has to look after the children's education, so academic achievement is often poor.
       Naturally, his xala affects every aspect of his life, especially since he is so focused on finding a cure that he spends huge sums (while earning little money), overextending himself. Eventually, even his fellow businessmen aren't willing to put up with his overdrafts, emasculating him as a businessman as well. He tries both scientific cures as well as traditional cures -- "we are in Africa, where you can't explain or resolve everything in biochemical terms. Among our own people it's the irrational that holds sway" -- and his desperation increases, leading to the tragic end in which he is completely debased.
       Part-allegory, and several parts social critique, addressing both polygamy and its effects on families, as well as the corruption of the rising business class after independence, Xala hits its targets reasonable well, but is not a particularly well-told story; an often awkward translation (see just the quotes in this review) doesn't help either. The narrative in the film version, more tightly focused on the moral corruption of the businessmen, is more successful.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 November 2011

- Return to top of the page -


Xala: Reviews: Xala - the film: Sembène Ousmane: Other books by Sembene Ousmane under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Senegalese author and film-maker Sembène Ousmane lived 1923 to 2007.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2011-2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links