The Color of Water
The New York Times bestselling story from the author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction.
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Author James McBride’s mother, Ruth, never traveled the path of least resistance. An immigrant Orthodox rabbi’s daughter, she married black Baptist minister Andrew Dennis McBride in 1942. After her husband’s death and her subsequent remarriage, Ruth struggled to raise her twelve biracial children on a shoestring budget. With The Color of Water, McBride—a novelist and jazz musician—honors his family’s story, shifting between interviews with his mother and his own memories. McBride doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of growing up in a mixed-race family, but his love and respect for his fascinating mother and her inspiring strength always come shining through.
Writer and musician McBride recounts a telling conversation with his mother: "Am I Black or White?" "You're a human being. Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody!" With the help of two remarkable African American husbands (James is the youngest of eight McBride kids; his father, Rev. Andrew McBride, died before he was born in 1957, and four more children were born during a second marriage), Ruthie Shilsky McBride Jordan infused her children with two values--a respect for education and religious belief. What makes this story inspiring is that she succeeded against strong odds--raising her family in all-black lower-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, where opportunities for her children to get into major trouble abounded; how she did this is what makes this memoir read like a very well-plotted novel. An orthodox Jew born in Poland and raised in the South, Ruthie's early life included her abusive father, an itinerant rabbi who ran a grocery store where he exploited his black customers; a caring but helpless mother crippled by polio, who spoke no English; and a hardscrabble childhood in rural Virginia, where she was shunned by whites and blacks alike, because she was a Jew and also for her father's business practices. McBride skillfully alternates chapters relating his life story and his coming to terms with his mixed ethnic and religious heritage with chapters conveying his mother's travails and her development into a fervent Baptist; the latter in her own voice. This moving and unforgettable memoir needs to be read by people of all colors and faiths.
I don’t typically like this genre, but I had to read this book in college and it was really good. I was really interested and remember saying to myself I could read more books like this if they were like this one. I thought it was interesting and I had a hard time putting it down.
The Color of Water
I read this book in grad school, and it was like fresh air traveling through my nostrils! Uniquely presented, well written lifelines of transparent truth! I read it more than once, each time a wonderful experience. One of my favorites indeed!