Monday, June 24, 2013

Re-Reading Sister Souljah's "The Coldest Winter Ever"

I read this book over 10 years ago, and it was an instant favourite. In fact, I've never met a person who read this book and didn't automatically crown it as the best book they had ever read. This story was phenomenal. It was groundbreaking. This book, these characters, and this author were the foundation of many great things to come.

Now despite loving this book so much, I actually didn't remember much about it when I found myself ready to read Sister Souljah's latest novel, "A Deeper Love Inside." So with my autographed copy in hand, I realized that I couldn't read Porsche Santiaga's story until I had revisited the journey of her older sister, Winter.

It was like I was reading the book for the first time, all over again. All I could remember that Winter was beautiful, and the story was gritty and an exhilarating page-turning journey...but the details had been forgotten. After entering the world of Midnight and his family and adventures in Souljah's following novels, the only things I remembered about Winter and her tale were the basics: she was stunning, she came from a powerful family, and she was someone that everyone wanted to be.

As a 30-something, now re-introduced to Winter Santiaga and her tale, I was surprised at how my perspective had changed over the decade since I had last read these words. I recalled Sister Souljah, during her visit to Toronto last month, saying that so many readers approach her saying how they want to BE Winter...and I'm pretty sure back in the day when I read the book, I may have shared the same sentiments.

However, reading the book now was a different journey. While it was beyond interesting to see how Winter enjoyed being a "bad bitch"...I could honestly feel the difference in understanding between what that would mean to a teenager or someone in their early 20s, and what that means to a grown woman.

This time around, I really identified with Sister Souljah's character in the book: she was in the midst of the celebrity world, and familiar with life around her from all sides of the spectrum, however she kept her cool. I could appreciate what it means for Souljah to put herself into the story, and send her message without "sending a message."

The character of Sister Souljah was a fabulous contrast to Winter, because she essentially had the access, the power, and the connections that Winter wanted...however she had obtained them through honest means and respectfully so. This time around I really felt how COLD Winter was, because despite being presented with alternate methods of achieving success, with solid people, and with genuine opportunity, she still remained bad-to-the-bone and still was all about self.

I couldn't empathize with Winter. And the amazing thing about having a main character that you can't relate to or even root for, is that you're able to see their perspective, hear their voice, and know their challenges...but still maintain a separate sense of right or wrong, despite their choices. So while Winter was ridiculously interesting, and it was fascinating to see her achieve, and see her manipulate and work to get what she wanted...deep down, as a reader, I still knew that what she was doing was not right...and may not last or benefit her in the end.

Of course, the lesson is learned by the end of the book, at least by the reader if not Winter herself. You can clearly see that deceipt, and manipulation doesn't pay in the end. You can see that "it all falls down" and her father's empire crumbles, and she (as her father's daughter) also meets her demise due to the nature of her business associations, and the cold-heartededness in which she approaches life.

The message is clear: nothing lasts forever. Especially when rooted in deciept and destruction. And I believe after reading the book the first time, I was probably disappointed that Winter didn't end up the bride of a movie star or famous rapper, or the glamourous and important woman she desired to be. I'm pretty sure as a twenty-something year old, I had rooted for Winter, and hoped that she would have found what she was looking for: permanent financial stability. This time around...I knew that justice had been served.

Now my views on Winter as a woman did not alter my reading experience in any way, despite how my feelings towards her had changed. It changed my level of empathy for Lana Santiaga, and for the twins, and there was an element of sadness attached to it as this exciting and important family fell apart.

The book is still fabulous, and will always be a classic piece of literature. Since discovering Sister Souljah's writing back then, I have still yet to find another author that tells a story like she does. What I most love is that the book took on practically two different meanings for me, based on where I was in my life.

The book was the same, but the context was different. The lessons were the same, but the spirit of it was different. The level of self-reflection was different. The value of choices, and association, priorities and self-worth were now evident. These are lessons that were loud and clear, as a result of Winter's journey, and lessons that will manifest differently with each reader.

Like any book, the meaning, and the lessons will of course vary depending on who picks it up, and how the words speak to them. So again, I'm now looking at this book and realizing the layers of messaging, and examples, and the context of various situations, and how much thought was put into the construction of this plot and the sub-themes that were communicated as a result.

It's more than just Winter, her beauty, her boyfriends, and her vanity. This book is representative of so many woman, both young and old, who allow themselves to focus on the wrong strengths and strive towards achiving the wrong type of security in life. This book is a testament to all women about what is truly inmportant, and what qualities should be exhaulted and cherished.

God bless Winter Santiaga, because her story was the foundation of so many branches of storytelling and the creation of so many other rich characters, and interesting locations, and juicy plots. Her story was the spring board for an entire network of character development, and it's so crazy looking back at the book that "started it all" and seeing how the layers of the story are set.

Through Winter, we meet the Santiaga family: the twins Lexus and Mercedes, the father Ricky, the mother Lana, and all that they represent. We meet young Porsche, and her silent-yet-stunning presence at the end of the book serves as a subtle cliffhanger of more to come. We are introduced to the strong and intelligent Midnight, and get to learn about him. Through Winter's eyes, opinions, and activities, an entire world of interaction is established. And it was so important to see this society and their choices through her eyes because she is so representative of the world they live in, and the miseducation and guidance of many other young girls.

I enjoyed reading this book again, and TRULY look forward to seeing this movie production unfold. While in Toronto, Sister Souljah mentioned that the pre-production of the film was underway, and already I am anticipating who will play Winter, how the characters will look on-screen, and how the story will translate live.

This book, and her others are so influential, without being preachy. So cultural, without being "ghetto" or excessively "urban." She's a fantastic writer, and each time I finish reading one of Souljah's books and close the back cover, I am reminded of the power of story telling, and how a great writer will leave you feeling like you want to change your life, make better choices, and be more aware of your surroundings. Through the eyes and interactions with Souljah's characters, I am able to walk away with a better understanding of human nature, and also self-reflect.

This is why her books are so fantastic. It's more than just the story, it's the message and the method that speak to you long after the last word's are read. Literary brilliance.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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