(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

An African has been appointed president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and El Hadji Abdou Kader Beyè and his fellow businessmen are celebrating, as they believe they will acquire greater economic control in Senegal now that the last vestige of foreign rule has been removed. Seated at the right of the newly appointed president, El Hadji rises amid the jubilation inspired by this propitious moment and reminds his colleagues that while they have been celebrating, his third marriage has been “sealed” at the mosque. He has become a captain according to traditional standards of nobility. Together, they all leave the chamber to accompany El Hadji to the home of N’Gone, his third wife, where the wedding festivities are in progress.

Yay Bineta, N’Gone’s aunt, officiates proudly over the bustling crowd of guests who have already gathered for her niece’s postnuptial celebration. She watches as the women examine enviously the numerous wedding gifts El Hadji has presented to his new young wife as tokens of love. El Hadji has not disappointed her expectations. Adja Awa Astou and Oumi N’Doye sadly observe this grand reception held in honor of their new “co-wife.” Adja, El Hadji’s first wife, departs after she has made a sufficient show of acceptance of his third marriage. Back at her villa, she reflects on her own unhappiness provoked by renewed feelings of abandonment. Her daughter, Rama, who is vehemently opposed to the marriage and to polygamy in general, tries in vain to console her mother.

At N’Gone’s villa, El Hadji’s arrival with his entourage of businessmen causes a stir of excitement among the guests. In the middle of the peals of laughter, loud music, and dancing, the lights go out, and the newly wedded couple slip away to their bedroom, where El Hadji prepares himself to deflower his bride.

The next morning, Yay Bineta returns to N’Gone’s villa in the company of an old woman. She enters the couple’s room and finds El Hadji seated on the edge of the bed, while N’Gone sits gazing blankly at nothing. El Hadji reveals that nothing happened during the night. Struck with dismay at the announcement of this unwanted turn of events in her social victory, Yay Bineta blames El Hadji, who had refused, beforehand, to take traditional precautions to ensure his sexual potency with his new wife. Yay Bineta insists that El Hadji...

(The entire section is 975 words.)