Xala narrates several weeks in the life of an African businessman, Abdou Kader Beyè, called “El Hadji.” The brief novel traces his rapid decline from affluence to total humiliation and ruin.
As the novel begins, El Hadji is at the peak of his career, a rich man respected and even envied by his fellow businessmen. He is about to be married to his third wife, N’Gone, a pretty young woman who has flattered him with her attentions. Taking a third wife marks him as a “captain,” a leader in West African culture, in which a man’s success is measured by the number of wives he can support. Each of El Hadji’s wives has her own villa and well-appointed household, complete with cars, a chauffeur, and many money-hungry children.
El Hadji collects his two wives and takes them (as custom dictates) to his wedding party, where they are to meet the new wife and welcome her without jealousy. The first two wives—Adja Awa Astou and Oumi N’Doye, respectively—leave, and as the party descends into raucous ribaldry, El Hadji is taken away by Yay Bineta, his new wife’s officious aunt, who has functioned as the matchmaker. It is Yay Bineta’s responsibility to prepare the husband and wife for their wedding night, and she therefore encourages El Hadji to perform certain tribal rituals to ensure his potency. He refuses, dismissing the acts as foolish superstition.
Alone with his new bride, El Hadji is filled with desire, but the unthinkable happens: He is impotent. Never before has such a thing happened to him. When he admits his failure to Yay Bineta, she tells him that someone must have put a curse of impotence, a xala (pronounced “hala”), upon him.
For days El Hadji agonizes over his problem, consulting countless marabouts (healers) and paying exorbitant fees to them, with no result. He neglects his business, and his...
(The entire section is 770 words.)