The Compelling Tale of The Coldest Winter Ever
I’ve had the intention of reading The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah for years. However, every time I attempted to borrow it from the library, every copy was already taken, whether in physical form or as an e-book. It made me wonder, how could this be? After all, the book was published back in 1999. Some deem it trash while others consider it a classic, but one thing is undeniable: The Coldest Winter Ever is a book that people truly desire to read.
A Glimpse into Winter Santiaga’s Life
At just sixteen years old, Winter Santiaga is the eldest daughter of a drug lord who holds sway in Brooklyn. She has three younger sisters and a mother who fits the description of a “bad bitch” – a term used to describe women who handle their business, exude an expensive aura, and conduct themselves with class. When her father decides to climb further up the ladder, he moves the family to a mansion on Long Island. However, Winter finds herself complaining about the boredom she experiences without her friends and regular sexual encounters. But when her father and his entire criminal empire are apprehended and imprisoned, the FBI confiscates their new house, all their possessions, and the luxurious vehicle in the driveway because they were all acquired through drug money. Winter’s mother and younger sisters are subsequently separated, leaving them essentially homeless and penniless. Nevertheless, they persist in their pursuit of social advancement while Winter strives to carve out a place for herself amidst the chaos.
An Uncompromising Depiction of Reality
The Coldest Winter Ever has been described using various terms such as street lit and urban fiction. Its setting revolves around the ghetto, the projects, and the hood. Personally, I am not entirely comfortable with these labels, as they tend to evoke negative connotations that may detract from the essence of the novel. However, they do provide an accurate portrayal of the setting, characters, and overall content. It’s important to note that the book can be interpreted in different ways. It bears mentioning that the writing is quite explicit at times. Winter Santiaga’s main preoccupations are centered around purchasing branded clothing, riding in fancy cars, attending extravagant parties, flaunting jewelry, getting her hair and nails done, and satisfying her sexual desires. All of this at the tender age of sixteen. Her friends, who pale in comparison to her, are associated with the world of hip hop and drugs. Given the book’s seemingly glorified portrayal of guns, drugs, sex, and materialism, you may wonder why I recommend it.
The Deeper Layers of The Coldest Winter Ever
First and foremost, it is vital to recognize that The Coldest Winter Ever is a classic. A quick Google search will yield countless articles detailing the impact of the book on the hip hop generation, black teenage girls, and the broader landscape of literature akin to Souljah’s work. While some individuals condemn the novel as dangerous, others feel a sense of resonance and identification with its themes. I believe that Souljah’s book possesses a depth that may not be immediately apparent, and it is precisely this quality that compels me to recommend it. For instance, Winter, having grown up as the daughter of a drug lord, believes she comprehends the true essence of survival in that world. However, her father has diligently shielded her from the worst aspects of it. When Winter returns to Brooklyn after leaving Long Island to indulge in a night of revelry, her father berates her. In response, she exclaims, “I went home. I went to Brooklyn. I went to the only place I know. Where my people are. Where everybody knows me. Those are my streets, Daddy!” In a poignant moment, the author reveals the extent of Winter’s naivety through her father’s cutting reply: “Do you think those streets love you? Those streets don’t love you. They don’t even know you… The street doesn’t love anybody.” By proxy, Winter believes she possesses the necessary qualities at sixteen to lead the perilous life of a drug dealer. However, Sister Souljah skillfully places her main character in numerous situations that highlight Winter’s ignorance, effectively serving to condemn drugs and those who deal them.
A Journey of Self-Discovery
“What do you read?” Winter is asked by Midnight, her father’s trusted ally. Unable to provide an answer, Midnight encourages her to contemplate who she wants to become and what she envisions for her future. Winter, unable to see beyond attaching herself to a man similar to her father, who can continue to provide her with the materialistic lifestyle she is accustomed to, fails to fathom the true potential that lies within her. How can a young man involved in a drug ring lecture a teenage girl about aspiring for more than just street life? The answer lies in Midnight’s exposure to the writings of Sister Souljah. Yes, this book contains elements of metafiction. The author herself assumes the role of a character in the story, a highly intelligent individual engaged in political and social activism. Souljah’s own experiences as a child, where she slept with her arms crossed to prevent anyone from injecting her with heroin, serve as a stark contrast to Winter’s character. Winter, in essence, embodies the antithesis of Souljah. While Winter makes selfish choices, Souljah dedicates herself to the betterment of her community. Both individuals have a foot in the world of hip hop, but Souljah employs it as a platform to advocate for social progress through education, while Winter merely seeks to gratify her own desires. Readers can draw their own conclusions by comparing these two young characters (Souljah is twenty-five in the novel) and reflecting on what happens when someone uses their community instead of working to heal it. The author refrains from explicitly telling readers what to think, allowing for a more thought-provoking and engaging reading experience.
The Pursuit of a Meaningful Existence
The true challenge lies in discerning what constitutes a “good life.” Winter acknowledges that drug dealers assume great risks to accumulate vast sums of money. She argues that they contribute to the economy by purchasing luxury goods and employing a significant portion of the population within the ghetto. Winter questions why anyone would choose to begrudge them for their success. After all, as she sees it, drug dealers provide opportunities to those who would otherwise find themselves trapped in a cycle of working tirelessly for meager wages, only to drown their sorrows in a beer. However, Winter fails to recognize the potential for meaningful connections beyond the confines of work. Such connections can be found in recreational centers, schools, community gardens, and hospitals. Souljah manages to convince Winter to accompany her on a visit to a ward housing AIDS patients. While readers perceive the devastating impact of the epidemic and the tremendous suffering endured by its victims, Winter remains oblivious to it all. Sister Souljah does not present an easy solution for her main character, nor does she demonstrate that Winter magically “gets it.” Instead, she allows readers to navigate the plot with their hands partially covering their eyes, offering a glimpse into the impending disaster that awaits Winter.
A Nuanced Perspective
It is my contention that Sister Souljah does not glorify the drug lifestyle or the individuals enveloped within it. Each instance in which Winter engages with the world of drugs feels steeped in peril, even as readers are privy to her thoughts and witness her celebration and rationalization of moments that inadvertently degrade her. This book comes highly recommended.