Sembène Ousmane did not get much formal education when he grew up in Senegal. He spent a few years at a primary school. Next was a life of many jobs and at many places. It brought him to France, the colonizing power, to the French Colonial Army during the second world war, to the docks in France where he worked.
Long after this he published his XALA. The main character of this book is the famous businessman El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye. He is a prominent menber of the upcoming middleclass. We meet him when he gets ready to get married to his third wife. One thread in the book is the relationships of his three wives. One more vocal than the other. One more domesticated than the other. One mature, another very young. A complicated household in the capital city, where each wife has her own house and privileges.
When El Hadji wants to consummate his third marriage, after a lively ceremony with many guests, he is unable to do so. He is shocked. He is a powerfull man, but now his physical power has left him. Xala (impotence) has entered his life. He confides in his faithful driver. He talks about with a friend at the local Chamber of Commerce. And soon many more people talk about it. He visits all kinds of healers and marabuts and likeminded people. One journey takes him far away from the capital city to meet with a famous man who is able to heal him. He is happy about it.
When he returnes to the capital city Dakar he notices he has been neglecting his profitable empire of shops and transports and storage. Cheques start bouncing, people come forward with claims. Even the marabut comes with a bouncing cheque. He reverses the healing proces, the xala returns. A physical decline. A financial decline. A societal decline.
The fall of a man, who is deserted by his wives, who is deserted by his businessfriends, who is deserted by the bank and the story of desertion continues.
Ousmane has woven a nice story. Love your only wife and keep an eye on your finances and be a thrustworthy person who does not extort and cheat other fellowmen.
The book has been turned into a movie.
Sembène Ousmane – Xala – 1973