Literature Annotations


Souljah, Sister
The Coldest Winter Ever


Genre Novel (413 pp.)
KeywordsAdolescence, Cross-Cultural Issues, Drug Addiction, Family Relationships, Human Worth, Poverty, Power Relations, Public Health, Racism, Society, Survival, Urban Violence
Summary

Streetwise, smart, and tough Winter Santiaga is the "phat" and "fly" daughter of a Brooklyn drug kingpin, and is also the main character in this novel. She and her sisters, Lexus, Mercedes, and Porsche have grown up used to a life of luxury afforded by her father's protective but lavish attentions on them.

They are contemptuous of all but the best labels for clothes, perfumes, and shoes. Her mother dresses like a queen and, with her family, enjoys life in a beautiful house that Winter's father buys them in the suburbs. The life all comes crashing down around them when her father is arrested and locked up, and the government takes all the family's money and possessions.

Winter's younger sisters are farmed out to foster families and her mother descends into crack cocaine addiction. Sister Souljah, who in a move many critics call a serious misstep, casts herself in the novel as the moral compass, opens her home to Winter, who lives there for a while, listening to Souljah's messages of self-love and community building. Never buying the rap, Winter drifts from man to man, finally herself is arrested for drug related charges and winds up serving a 15-year sentence for having (as she says) "a bad attitude."

Commentary

Written by hip-hop artist and activist, Sister Souljah, this novel is a virtual hip hop lexicon, and probes family values and social issues in fascinating ways. Drug king Santiaga is a committed father, caring for his daughters and wife, providing them with an extravagantly luxurious lifestyle. Souljah's values play against Santiaga's like a counterpoint, however, as she preaches values of self-love, love for the community, and the increasingly urgent need for education in poor communities.

Looking at life through Winter's eyes, her astonishment at and ultimate rejection of Souljah's message, her absolute belief in the goodness of the fast and moneyed life, provides a useful means for exploring the ways poverty and racism shape values. It is too easy to criticize a family like the Santiagas for their superficial love of things (and for Mr. Santiaga's willingness to run his "business" in whatever fashion necessary to turn a fabulous profit--murder, tax evasion, money laundering), but to probe connections between the "easy" money and the options open to a family like the Santiagas is much more difficult, yet important.

Particularly relevant to medicine is the story of Winter's mother, whose decline into crack addiction and prostitution is breathtakingly rapid. One day she is wearing furs and driving a Lexus, exquisitely groomed and mannered. The next week she has lost weight, is filthy, and begging money from Winter for her next fix. Of course she becomes more and more ill as her addiction progresses.

The final chapter could stand alone (it is a long novel). In it, Winter narrates being let out of prison to attend her mother's funeral. The chapter gets at the experience of prison, and the poignance of that experience for a 25-year old young woman who is incarcerated for non-violent drug-related charges (as the majority of women in the U.S. are).

PublisherPocket Books/Simon & Schuster
Edition1999 (paperback)
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Stanford, Ann Folwell
Date of Entry 08/16/02
Last Revised 12/12/06