MISSING OUT: By Leila Aboulela - Memories we Lost and Other Stories Study Guide

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The short story missing Out by Leila Aboulela was published in Granta in 2010 a time when Sudan, the country of origin of the story, was unstable politically, socially and economically. During this period chaos are all over the country and the sky fire red. The civil servants are underpaid and therefore strikes and go slows by the workers are common. It is such factors that drive Leila into writing about a classic situation: that of an immigrant couple (Sudanese in London). Having been born to a Sudanese father, brought up and schooled in Sudan, Leila understands the plight of Africa as a continent and at the same time celebrates and champions for the values that have held the African continent together. By the use Of scarce characters, Leila uses a couple, Maidy and Samra to represent both sides of African continent: the pros and cons of living in Africa. Maidy embraces the new culture while Samra retreats more and more and becomes withdrawn and isolated from the reality of life around her.

In this story of love, culture and alienation, Leila still for trading our culture with the western one but yet retain the pros of our culture.

She is not totally opposed to adapting what is good from the own. culture 'Missing out' depicts its originality by the fact that author uses religion that is widespread in the country of its origin: Sudan. The author's own experiences, especially while at the, university, influenced her writing. She pursued Economics at the university, which she found difficult due to high baccalaureate scores and math being a particularly strong subject under the dedicated tutelage of her mother. Other than her personal life and the biographical, which have been major influences and sources of inspiration for her work, Aboulela's literary influences include writers such as Naguib Mahfouz and Tayeb Salih. She also admires works by Doris Lessing, J.M. Coetzee, Ahdaf Soueif, Anita Desai, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Abdulrazak Gurnah.


'Missing Out' is an emotional and moving story of love, culture, alienation and a longing for home by one of its characters while the other character blindly sinks into the new culture and hence he is alienated. It's a story of Maidy, a young and ambitious Muslim man living in London. It's a wondrous story that moves rather swiftly, giving the readers the character's conflicts without unnecessarily dwelling too long on their problems. This quick pace helps the author to state, though not explicitly, that the story is not about Maidy, but about a sort of young, ambitious Muslim caught between modernity and tradition. Maidy is sympathetic and his conflict is a universal one, charmingly rendered.

Story revolves around a young man from Sudan who joins college in London. During his first term, Maidy writes home citing he would not make it and that he would give up and return.

With encouragment from his mother, who strongly believes he can make it. Maidy weds Samra as the mother advocates.

This is made to make him concentrate more on his studies and deter him from marrying a white and losing taste of his culture the beauty of his country. Samra learns that Maidy has religion as he doesn't observe the mandatory prayers and in tries to win him back. Samra is nostalgic and has refused to adapt to new life in London and observes her duties as a Muslim woman. On the other hand, Maidy sinks into the new culture and all he sees looking at his origin country, Sudan, is negativity and backwardness. He tries to discourage Samra but she stays aloof and gets excited when it is suggested to her that she was going to spend holiday in Sudan.

Maidy later calls home and announces that he desired to remain in London even after his studies. This is ironical as from the beginning he had always expressed attachment to his mother country.


The setting of this story shifts from London to Sudan. This could be a deliberate move by the author to compare and contrast life in Sudan and in London. London is depicted as developed politically, socially and economically. Life in London was swift and 'interfered' with normal life. Maidy argues, 'here in London praying was distraction, an interruption 'p 112 London was civilized. Life was easy. Samra wondered how one can buy meat already cut up for her. The author observes, 'every Obiect she touched was perfect, quality radiated from every little thing. London is so developed that even Samra longed to be ill in order to take medicine which was so seducing. The author says, 'even the pharmacies were stocked so full of medicine in so many different colors and flavors that she almost longed to ill '(pl 13)

Sudan on the other hand is depicted as underdeveloped. Although life in Sudan is still and rhythmic, many elites like Maidy find it ra retrogressive. Unlike in London where begging is illegal, in Sudan beggars are all over. Child labor is a common practice in third world countries as inferred in this story 'Shooing away the bare foot children who passed by with loaded trays trying to sell her chewing gum, hairpins and matches ' (P. 108) for the elites like Maidy Sud and by extension African Continent is underdeveloped.

Maidy thought Samra would be grateful to him for rescuing her from the backwardness of Khartoum. Chaos is in the city and strikes by the civil servants prevail. This is the plight of Africa.



It is said that change is inevitable. Many traditions of people, particularly Africans change when they go to abroad. This is clearly shown by Maidy who abandons his culture eg the mandatory Islamic prayers. He says, "here in London praying was distraction, an interruption ' It is no wonder his mother gets really shocked when she learns about the sudden change of her son. Additionally, he even sees the very fabric of traditions that have held his life together as 'backwardness' and retrogressive. It is in that view that Maidy thinks that Samra should be grateful for saving her from 'the backwardness of Khartoum '

Maidy was hardworking back in the days. He was brilliant and always came to the top of his class. He even had appeared on a newspaper at sixteen. In London, Maidy loses his hardworking spirit and 'in his first term at college in London he complained that studies had become hard '

The plight of Africa

Leila Aboulela is concerned about the staggering poverty and underdevelopment in Sudan and the inability of African governments to function at the level they ought to. African has resources but is taken away from the Africans. Sudan is underdeveloped. Children at tender age who ought to be in school are in the streets busy hawking to feed their families 'Shooing away the barefooted children who passed by with loaded trays trying to sell her chewing gum ' (p 108)

Africa is suffering from civil wars. Sudan is politically unstable. Samra's teacher says, 'you must be relieved that you are here, all that War and famine back home.

Africa suffers from brain drain. Such are the people who appreciate more the western culture and abandon their own. According to Majdy, African culture is inferior to western culture.

The place of women in the society.

This is clearly a patriarchal society that believes in the male over female. It is clear that Maidy's mother is left with the responsibility of taking care of her son. Parenting has been left to women. The relationship between Maidy and Samra is domineering one. That could be the reason why Maidy uses abusive language on his wife. She is not supposed to question her husband's behavioral changes. She is not supposed to question him for not doing his prayers and when she does Maidy calls her stupid.

Techniques and Language Use.

Narrative voice

The author has employed third person narrative mode, where every character is referred to by the narrator as 'he', 'she' or 'they'. This makes it clear that the narrator is an unspecified entity or uninvolved person in the story. This kind of narration brings out the thoughts and intentions of different characters hence their character traits are fully developed. A third person narrator is omniscient and omnipresent. Such narrator has knowledge of all times, people, places and events and this makes it possible to shift the plot from London to Khartoum, Sudan. Even then the narrator's knowledge is "limited" to the characters, that is, the narrator cannot describe things unknown to the focal character.

Local dialect

To keep it original, the author has used local dialect to avoid the story been confused with European literature. Use of local dialect also helps the reader to determine the physical setting of the story. The author has used certain local words among them tobe, zed Inshallah, ka 'ba and Qibla


Maidy is a humorous character. He gets lazy with prayers and says that it's because life in London is swift. He tells Samra not to cover her head because he didn't want to be associated fanatics and backwardness: His culture.

It's also humorous that when Maidy complains of studies being difficult for him his mother saddles him with a wife.


Irony is a strange, funny or sad situation in which things happen in the opposite way to what you would expect. It is ironic that Maidy, who does so well in his secondary education certificate, goes to study abroad but complains of studies being hard on him on his first term.

There is irony when Maidi calls home to complain about studies and his mother instead marries him to Samra. One wonders whether marriage makes studies easy or complicates the state of the learner.

It is therefore not a surprise that Maidy abandons obligatory prayers completely.

It is ironic that Maidy expects Samra to show gratitude and appreciation for saving her "the backwardness" of Khartoum but instead she continues to be nostalgic about the same backwardness and eventually travels back home during the holiday.

Maidy asks Samra to take a leave to Sudan so he can also take a break from her but soon after leaving, he feels hollow and empty.

Character and Characterisation

This story like any other short story uses scarcity of characters and this has given the author the opportunity to explore the characters into details giving us their character traits. Each character plays a significant role that clearly can't be overlooked


He is loving: He shows love and care to Samra. He shows her around and does everything possible to make her happy and comfortable in her new environment; London. He gives her his attention despite his busy schedule.

He is supportive: He supports Samra to settle in her new environment. He buys her a mat to use during her obligatory prayers.

He is alienated/Detached: He is detached from his culture. He blindly copies the western culture. He abandons the very fabric of his culture that holds him together: the obligatory prayers. It is no wonder that he views the practice of his people back in Khartoum, Sudan as 'backwardness '

He is abusive: He calls Samra stupid and sees her as retrogressive for observing her obligatory prayers.

He is immoral: He sees it as an opportunity to bring other women in his matrimonial bed when Samra travels to Sudan for holiday.

Maidy represents the elites who go overseas either to study or work there and fail to ever return to their countries:


She is religious: She observes her religious duties in a foreign country and even urges her husband to create time for prayers in her busy schedule.

She is resilient: Unlike her husband who is changed by his surrounding, Samra remains as religious as she left Khartoum. She still observes her religious duties despite the fact that life in London is swift.

She is naive: Amazed by the kind of development there is in London especially in the field of medicine, Samra is so much seduced by the color and flavor of medicine that she wishes to fall sick that she may use them.

She is loving: As a typical African woman, Samra takes care of her husband and it is no wonder he feels hollow and incomplete when she goes back to Sudan for a holiday. She represents Africans who stick to their cultures and admonishes it so much that they actually value it even when in oversees. As a typical African woman, she adores and cherishes her husband. She represents African women who stand up for their marriages and families.

Maidy's mother

She is caring: She calls her son to check on her. She gets worried when she learns that her son thinks of dropping because studies have become hard and encourages him to work harder.

She is generous: when her son does well in examinations back in Khartoum, she throws up a party for him. She invites the villagers to come and celebrate with her.

She is selfish: She only thinks of herself and not her son. When he announces that he will stay in London she only complains about her being left alone other than looking at the advantages her son will get.

She is hopeful: She hopes that things will not remain dark in Sudan and speaks of a better future. She says, 'But what if things improve here, son? If they strike oil or make lasting peace. She represents citizens who endure hostility and poor standards of living in their African countries with the hope that 'things will improve ' As a mother, she shows love, care and good will to her son. She wishes the very best to him.


  1. Compare and contrast the character of Maidy and Samra
  2. The university students were demonstrating. Do you think demonstrations can solve problems? Discuss.
  3. Discuss irony as used in this story.
  4. Discuss the theme of religion
  5. Maidy's determination to remain in London symbolizes running away from the culture of his people. Discuss.
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