Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared "light-skinned" woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician and son, explores his mother's past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.
The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in "orchestrated chaos" with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. "Mommy," a fiercely protective woman with "dark eyes full of pep and fire," herded her brood to Manhattan's free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion--and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.
In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother's footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents' loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.
At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all-black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. "God is the color of water," Ruth McBride taught her children, firmly convinced that life's blessings and life's values transcend race. Twice widowed, and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth's determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college--and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.
Interspersed throughout his mother's compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self-realization and professional success. The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.
The Washington Post Book World
Lively...a well-written, thoughtful contribution to the literature on race.
The New York Times Book Review
The two stories, son's and mother's, beautifully juxtaposed, strike a graceful note.
The Boston Globe
Superbly written...a moving and exciting story that totally satisfies.
...his accounts of the almost unrelenting prejudice of white against black, black against white, light-skinned black against dark-skinned black, and so on are deeply disturbing. One is left to borrow the words of another recent commentator and say that this cancer does indeed make me want to holler. Highly recommended.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by High School senior Class mates find the book "racist" Hello, I am a 17 years old high school senior who was assigned this book as my summer reading. Now, I read the book from cover to cover and and i thought it was a well written and detailed Memoir about a man (The author) who was on a journey to... Read More
Rated of 5
by Tina Profound This was one of the most memorable books I've ever read. It's been many years since I read it and was so impressed with it that I passed it on. The title says it all.
Rated of 5
by C.Perkins In my Opinion In my opinion this is a good story because people were all brought up in a different way & this story may help you change your perspective on some things in your life or others.
Rated of 5
by Renee Color of Water I liked this book a lot. I liked reading about someone else's life and how it pertained to mine.
Rated of 5
by martha malagon black and white I like this story because it reminder me from the past and the present and future with my families. And this story based on the real life of histories with family.
Rated of 5
by Anne Jones The Color of Water This is a highly recommended read. It's 2011 and I am a coloured lady married into a family of Jews - I am being ostracized at every turn - and holding my head up high is at times extremely difficult. All I try and remember daily is what my... Read More
The story of a violent, war-haunted, alcoholic father and a strong-willed, loving mother who struggled to protect her three sons from the effects of poverty and ignorance that had tainted her own life.
Blunt has turned the memories of her childhood and young adulthood in rural Montana into a beautifully written memoir that is a meditation on how land and her life will always be intertwined. A must read.
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