Xala is a novel by Senegalese author Ousmane Sembène, originally written in French in 1973. The following year, it was made into an award-winning movie by Sembène himself, and it was translated into English as part of the influential Heinemann African Writers series in 1976.
The novel—which follows a rich Senegalese businessman named El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye as he develops the titular xala (pronounced "hala"), or impotence, on the night of his wedding to a third wife—is an acrimonious satire which caricatures Senegal's postcolonial bourgeoisie. Through the impotence of El Hadji, Sembène critiques the impotence of the new Senegalese elite to advance the material conditions of Senegal's rural and urban poor past their colonial conditions. At the same time, however, Xala is also a masterful and panoramic satire of gender roles and religious life in Senegal. Most of the novel, after all, does not focus on the political stakes of El Hadji's impotence and business dealings (though this is touched on at the beginning and rather explosively at the novel's end), but rather the tensions and rivalries between Adja Awa Astou (El Hadji's first wife, who is a Muslim convert), Oumi N'Doye (his second), and N'Gone (his third wife, who is dominated throughout the text by Yay Bineta, her twice-widowed aunt). In showing us the absurd jealousies and pitfalls of the urban polygamist life, Sembène is able to caricature the unequal status of men and women in Senegal, as well as reflect the cavalier and often inappropriate relationships conditioned by both "modern" and traditional religion and spirituality. Along with God's Bits of Wood (1970), it is considered one of Sembène's written masterpieces.
Of course, however, just as we have Xala the novel, we also have the film, made by Sembène himself in order to reach a broader African audience (since many native Senegalese were not able to read and write French at the time). This film, produced in Wolof but with French subtitles, received international acclaim, much like Sembène's novel, and it also won the Karlovy Vary Special Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival of the Czech Republic. Through stories and films such as Xala, Sembène is credited as a central voice who shared postcolonial African stories with the rest of the world (and, in particular, with a European audience more familiar with French). Moreover, through his realistic depictions of life for everyday Senegalese, as well as his ruthless takedowns of the rising middle class of postcolonial Africa, Sembène is remembered as a powerful Marxist voice in African literature, often discussed with authors like the famous Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. Finally, in his centering of women and their stories—even in a story that is allegedly about a man's impotence like Xala—Sembène is remembered for the way in which he situated Black, African women as drivers of social, narrative, and familial change.