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3.55  ·  Rating details ·  514 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
A biting satire about the downfall of a businessman-polygamist who assumes the role of the colonialist in French-speaking Africa.
Paperback, 112 pages
Published August 1st 1997 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1973)
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Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-lit, novella
Needing a book starting with the letter X for an A to Z title challenge, I selected Ousmane Sembene's Xala. Last year as I focused on reading books by women of color from around the globe, my books by men of color were lacking. Looking back I think I read less than five, so reading more men of color is a goal of mine for 2018. Xala, the Wolof word for impotence, takes readers to Senegal. It is a scathing satire of the current state of post colonial Senegalese and European relations as well as on ...more
This is a very well written satire set in 1970's Senegal just after it gained independence from France. Ousmane Sembene takes a sharp stab at French Colonialism and it's aftermath, and especially at native Sengalese "puppet businessmen" who continue to take economic advantage of their fellow countrymen. El Hadji was one of these men and the story focuses on him and his three wives. Shortly after marrying his third wife he finds that he has Xala (temporary impotence). Most of the novel is a humor ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This was a quick, enjoyable read, set in the Senegal of the 1970s. Post-colonial, funny, a man marrying his third wife but then when he can't perform, the entire community is there to offer an opinion or (less often) to help him undo the curse (the xala). It was interesting to see some concepts of Islam applied (the "I get up to four wives" idea) next to weddings where everyone gets drunk. His daughter rejects polygamy despite being Muslim, she is clearly a "modern" woman and is reprimanded acco ...more
Jun 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, africa
Considering that Xala was written in the 1970s, it is a surprisingly frank discussion of male & female societal, marital, & sexual relationships in the days of post-colonial Senegal (which gained independence in 1960). It's a dark satire, a harsh parable that shows the clash between old, traditional African ways and the newer, post-colonial, 'Europeanized' ways. For such a short book, it touches on many themes: sexuality, religion, business, corruption, language, gender roles, societal l ...more
I've been a fan of Ousmane Sembène's films for a while now, but this is my first attempt at reading his fiction, and his fiction feels structured like a film to me. Each character could so easily be translated to the screen, and each scene could easily fit within the frame of a movie camera.

And it's quite funny. Unlike a lot of other satires, its humor transcends its cultural context. Sembène, even with his impeccable anti-colonial credentials, is not above mocking his own people-- in fact, cron
May 09, 2009 added it
A slender but horrific denunciation of corporate greed in post-colonial Senegal. Money compromises Hadji's sexual identity, and in turn sexuality compromises his money. Sembene was not a writer of flourish - maybe something was lost in the English translation - but his storytelling is crisp. Amusing dialogue. The book's conclusion is terrifying.
Betty-ann Ananeh-frempong
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It will entertain you and keep you captivated to the end! One of my favorite books!
Ralowe Ampu
Oct 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
omg best ending ever. i can't spoil the ending. i can't believe i found this book. it was just on this table in front of this store out on the street. oh yeah, i forgot that sembene was a novelist. this book is so smart about patriarchy and colonization and society. it screams from the margins. and my god the cover is so fucking gorgeous. i need to read more african fiction.
Apr 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: senegal
A brief, but interesting and entertaining look at one man's downfall. Worth the time for some African myth within contemporary African culture. I'll definitely keep the author in mind for future reads.
Sofia Samatar
Feb 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Classic political allegory. Innovative for its time (1973) and, while not necessarily inspiring today, still of historical importance.
Kobe Bryant
May 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Pretty clunky but I still liked it
TJ Sandstrom
Mar 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Short, deep, supplemented by a movie. great commentary on "post-colonial" Senegal, incorporates commentary on religion, money, business and tradition.
Clare Carter
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
I had to read this for class and didn't really like anything about it at all so I guess that's that.
Xala tells us about El Hadji Abdou Kader, a rich and powerful man who marries his third wife, but in the wedding night he notices that he has been cursed with a sudden xala (impotency). It affects his whole life as much that his business starts to go bad and his other two wives start to quarrel, all because the cure to xala seems nowhere to be found and the cause of it is unknown.

I'm not sure whether or not I liked this book. It was easy to read, but there were a number of things I didn't quite
Nov 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
Interesting book showing an unknown side of Senegalesian society. I've had quite some laughs and enjoyed getting some idea of polygamous relationships. Sembène wants Westerners to get a realistic view of what life in Africa is like and he definitely succeeds while creating also readable and entertaining stories. The end of this book is terrifying as are some of the greedy characters. Despite of not being a huge tome, the book touches on many aspects of modern life in Western Africa from national ...more
Nov 28, 2014 rated it liked it
The novel was quite interesting. I found myself looking up a good bit of the cultural terms, but overall an easy read. I didn't find the book 'humorous' but tragic in a sense. The ending was very bizarre and repulsive, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It tackles so many issues in such a short span (just barely over 100 pages) and that's what I liked most about it. I'm truly glad I was exposed to such a novel.
Dec 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, africa, owned
I did enjoy this book's message about the misguided priorities of sexuality and wealth, but other than the basic concept, the novel was just all over the place. Characters were underdeveloped, and typos littered the pages so I could barely understand certain paragraphs. It's possible that this book wasn't formatted properly for e-readers, but even without the errors, the writing style seemed very childish to me.
Feb 03, 2015 rated it liked it
The end is somewhat theatrical and absurd, but the story is a good one. The protagonists downfall is Sembène's scathing critique of polygamy and the selfish, hypocritical African bourgeois of the post-colonial era who set their countries on the path to failure. I liked it mostly for our shared views on polygamy.
Charlie Wester
Feb 06, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
Really good satire. A nice look at the immediate "post-colonial" condition in Senegal. Themes of language, power, gender, identity, and colonialism make the book rich but not unreadable. I found it a nice entry into modern Senegalese literature.
May 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Van tijd heel grappige passages; een eerste inkijk op een polygamisch levensregeling; geeft heel materiële kijk op relaties; en een wel heel moraliserend einde (?); de satire is volgens mij dat dit soort verhaal OVERAL wel kan gebeuren - ongeacht continent, tijd of monetair systeem -
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow!!! What a twist to a tale!!! Meeen this book just goes to show how temporal things of this world are and how our actions be they good or bad have consequences. Great depiction of societal woes in the story of riches to rags.
Jun 08, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a hard book for me to rate. Did I really like it -- I am not sure. Strange is the only the word I can think of to describe this book. But then I enjoy trying to understand different cultures and often a book will give me an inkling into those cultures.
Sep 17, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard book to get your hands on--I actually think I read a photocopy of someone else's book, but well worth it. It really opened my eyes to the function of male and female sexuality in African society.
Darren m-p
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Satire that's actually biting. Budding authors take notes
Mar 07, 2009 rated it liked it
This was an odd but interesting story. The ending was bizarre and a little disturbing, but I still enjoyed reading the book overall, especially the details about Senegal and modern-day polygamy.
Rianna Jade
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-finest
"What about French?"
"A historical accident."
Oct 29, 2013 rated it liked it
This was for a class. It was short and pretty humorous at times, but definitely not the kind of thing I would have picked up on my own.
Mar 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recentlyread
fun, biting social satire of upper class Dakar.
Muneera Salem-Murdock
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: french
Read years ago. I also saw the film. Quite good.
Dec 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, senegalese
Fairly easy prose. The novel works as an allegory of government corruption. Some of the scenes definitely went for the disgust factor.
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Ousmane Sembène often credited in the French style as Sembène Ousmane in articles and reference works, was a Senegalese film director, producer and writer. The Los Angeles Times considered him one of the greatest authors of Africa and has often been called the "Father of African film."
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