Set in Oman, The End of Summer by Salha Al Busaidy is an uncompromising take on the harsh realities of one girl’s dramatic story of her cross-cultural upbringing. Exploring personal traumas, social taboos, and intricate family dynamics, Summer’s story reveals the challenges of growing up in the face of a modern world and longstanding traditions, which make it near-impossible to find a sense of belonging anywhere.
Born in London to Omani-Zanzibari parents, Salha Al-Busaidy explores the concepts of identity, feminism and much more in her debut book. A singer and now a writer too, Salha started writing this book during the lockdown when her singing gigs stopped abruptly. Talking about the idea that gave birth to this book, Salha says “I had the idea for a couple of books brewing and stewing in my head for many years and had jotted down notes on my phone and in diaries. During lockdown I started stringing these ideas into paragraphs, then chapters, and suddenly I had 80,000 words.”
“What started this book was the way my niece described finding her brother. He was in his bathroom at my sister’s house and his heart had stopped. The picture was so vivid and heartbreaking, it stuck with me until I finally wrote it down. Naturally it was an emotional book to write, and yet quite cathartic. It is about a young woman, found in her bathroom by her sister, but it is from the viewpoint of her soul, as she comes to terms with dying and then trying to figure out what killed her, before they bury her 24 hours later.“
From having an amazing 20-year singing career, to writing a book – Salha followed her heart and took a major pivot! But to Salha, writing came as a relief from not having any singing work. “It is a major pivot, but I have a degree in languages, with a heavy emphasis on literature. Plus I used to write a lot of songs, so writing is not completely foreign to me. I do miss singing, and losing my career of over 20 years did hit me quite hard. I am grateful that I was distracted by all the editing, design and marketing that goes with publishing a book! My cousin found The Dreamwork Collective, a publishing house in Dubai, who like to focus on stories from the region, and especially from women. I love them, they believed in me and my story right from the beginning, and hopefully we are going to grow into powerhouses together!“
The feeling of being an ‘international citizen’ is not alien to Salha; and that is seen clearly in her book as she talks about multi-cultural ties. Similarly, another strong concept that Salha touches in the book is ‘feminism’. We had the pleasure of discussing her views on these topics in detail. Here is a snippet of our candid conversation with Salha:
One of the central topics of the book is ‘Identity’ and how it is shaped by one’s origins. What would you say is your definition of ‘Identity’?
I wrote about this topic because honestly I am still trying to figure it out. When I say I’m Omani Zanzibari, people are confused when I don’t speak Arabic or Swahili. I was born and educated in England, but that will never make me English. I think that a lot of people in Dubai can relate, especially friends who have children who were born here and only know Dubai, but who will never be Emirati. Diaspora kids, third culture kids, cross culture kids; this book will resonate with all of them!
Feminism is another central idea that is very prominent in the book. It is commonly perceived that certain cultures struggle more with the concept than others. Would you agree with it?
It IS commonly perceived and perpetuated. However, it is clear that many cultures are struggling with the idea of feminism and equality. Christianity was perverted so long ago to make Eve the baddie of Human’s origin story that women are still struggling to have autonomy over their bodies in America. So even though Western media likes to portray Muslims as oppressed, Islam is actually very enlightened. Of course, the teachings are not always followed, so we still have a long way to go too. Women make great leaders, empathetic and strong, and the best partners when treated with respect. We will get nowhere as a collective until we achieve balance.
The story also sheds light on multi-cultural ties – which is also true for you. How do you think this has affected you?
I guess I feel like I’m from a lot of places, but am never truly accepted in any of them. In Oman, I don’t speak Arabic. I live in Zanzibar, but they treat me like a foreigner. In England, they accept that I’m British, but always ask where I’m really from. I always felt at home in Dubai, because a lot of people have similar stories. I feel international, a true citizen of the world, and yet always looking for a solid place to land.
In this virtual era, one’s views and aspirations are greatly shaped by what one consumes on social media. This constant consumption of all types of content – how do you think it affects the mental health of adolescents and young adults?
My friends and I are always grateful for being Gen X, and not growing up with social media! Adolescence is a minefield without the unattainable beauty standards, online bullying and constant barrage of misinformation. I can’t imagine how it shapes them, as I don’t have kids. I did notice in my godson and his friends that they are much more accepting of different people, orientation, race, gender etc. and understand mental health issues. So maybe the internet can be used for good?
The book mentions – “One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” How would you say young girls like Summer can make sure that their life is worth the flashback?
I love this quote. I actually got it from my nephew’s Facebook page, when I was missing him one day and decided to cyber stalk him! I can’t say how young girls should live their lives. No one should! I know that I wanted to live MY life, not a life that others thought I should live. I didn’t want to get to my death bed wondering if I could have a career as a singer like I’d always dreamed. Or written a book and been too afraid to show anyone. But my way is not for everyone. I will risk things, try anything, travel everywhere. As Summer says, “I want to live. Even if it kills me”
Lastly, we asked Salha about some advice from her own experience as a writer; for all aspiring writers out there! “My piece of advice is that if you want to write a book, start writing. Today. And write every day. Even if some days you lack inspiration, you can just read over what you’ve already written and perfect it. Sometimes you’ll accidentally write something genius, and sometimes it will be drivel! But it’s a muscle that, when exercised every day, will become stronger. And also READ! (I know that’s two pieces of advice!)“
To know more about Salha, follow her – Salha Al-Busaidy