Critical Context

Sembène’s first novel, Le Docker noir (1956; the black dock worker),reflected his experiences as an African dock worker in France; his second novel, O pays, mon beau peuple! (1957; o my country, my beautiful people), chronicled the return of a Senegalese war veteran to his native village and his attempts to modernize the villagers’ farming techniques. Neither of these works gained the wide acceptance of God’s Bits of Wood, which launched his literary career, first in France and then abroad. This novel remains one of the major works of the postcolonial literature that focused on the wrongs of colonialism. Sembène moved next into this fiction’s second stage: the exposure of the political and social chaos that followed independence. Xala (1973; English translation, 1976) is considered to be the best of the novels he has written on this theme.

When Sembène returned to Senegal in 1961, he saw the limited impact African writing had on Africans and decided that the masses could be influenced more effectively through film. After studying cinematography abroad, he began to bring his own novels and other works to the screen. Sembène is recognized not only as one of the major African novelists of the twentieth century but also as a brilliant filmmaker.