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The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to…

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother (1996)

by James McBride

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3,835791,345 (3.94)94
  1. 00
    Off-White: a memoir by Laurie Gunst (Manthepark)
    Manthepark: An interesting coming-of-age story of a Jewish girl’s connections with the African-American and white communities in Richmond, Virginia, and how those connections carried forward into her adult life.

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This is one of the best books I read in 2014. It was so beautifully written, and I feel that James McBride may have exorcised most his demons in the writing of this book. His mother's story was painful, and yet very uplifting. She was a true survivor.

Lovely. ( )
  quillmenow | Apr 6, 2015 |
Read this ONLY because it was a book club book. ONLY finished it because it was a book club book!!!! Completely unimpressed with James McBride and his story. Yes, it is satisfying that he and his many siblings made something of themselves after knowing about their childhoods and what they lived through, but that sum and substance. I absolutely do not recommend this book. AND I was in the clear minority of our bookclub's opinion of this book. ( )
  olongbourn | Mar 1, 2015 |
I had actually wanted to read this back when it was big, but never did. Anyway, we had it sitting on the shelf, and it came to mind when I was trying to think of something easy (but not too easy) to read to help me out of the reading slump I've been in. Turned out to be a pretty good book for it, actually. It's a memoir, which I'm discovering (against everything I'd ever suspected) to be a genre I'm really drawn to. And it has an engaging—though not overly serious—tone throughout.

The subtitle of the book is "A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother." James McBride is—sure enough—a black man who grew up with what he assumed to be a WASP mother. Which, growing up in Harlem during the Civil Rights era, would be drama enough. But then as an adult he gradually came to realize that his mother was actually a Polish-born Jewish woman. She had shed her Judaism, and an entire life along with it, many years before he was born. This book essentially tells the story of his quest to learn about that abandoned life, and along the way it's a fairly typical memoir of growing up. Or rather, it's two of them—in alternating chapters, he intertwines his own story with that of his mother.

Still, even if they are typical, these two stories are not uninteresting. McBride has a somewhat unique take on the racial tensions & struggles that surrounded him as he came of age. And his mother's story is both heartbreaking and triumphant, though one can imagine it being better told.

There's a lot to think about here, though I'm sure the story is even more complex than this telling of it. Still, worth reading. ( )
  spoko | Nov 14, 2013 |
"What color is God?" asks the young James of his mother, confused by all the white images of Jesus that surround him and his black father and mother. "God's not black. He's not white. . . . God is the color of water," is the wonderful response of Rachel, an astonishingly gifted and driven woman who despite numerous adversities managed to raise, often on her own, twelve amazing children. They all grew up to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, a chemistry teacher, social worker or other kind of professional. That she was a white Jew –at least initially, she later converted to Protestantism and started her own Baptists church with her second husband –living in a black ghetto with little income and virtually no support from her family makes it even more remarkable.

Two voices complement each other in this moving narrative: Rachel, James' mother, writes about growing up and the Jewish family that ultimately rejected her, and James, her musician and composer son, who describes his own journey from the ghetto to middle class society. Rachel, who almost became a prostitute at one point to support herself, had the good sense to marry two very dedicated black men. Unfortunately, both died young, leaving Rachel to care for an enormous household of children.

Their two accounts are suffused with the issues of race, identity and religion. All of these issue are transcended by the force of Rachel's will and her unshakeable insistence that education and religion were paramount. James was puzzled by his mother's whiteness. She was the only white in the neighborhood who was disdained by other blacks who saw her as an interloper, and whites who disliked her for being a white person surviving in a black world. The question of race was always in the background during this time of racial struggle, the civil rights movement, and Black Power. One of the older brothers became an activist; James drifted into truancy and drugs. Finally, after moving to Delaware, he discovered music in the hands of a talented white teacher at an otherwise all black school. Rachel shrewdly used the busing system to have her children attend schools in neighborhoods where learning was a priority. She took them to every free cultural event she could find  it certainly helped living in New York. To top things off, Rachel went back to school herself and earned a bachelor's degree in social work. She ignores her children's pleas to stay out of the ghetto and enjoys walking around the Red Hook Housing Project that was her family's old stomping grounds. This book is a testimony to a mother's love and to education's value in overcoming adversity. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Growing up in a family as one among twelve children is a definite challenge. For author James McBride this situation was made more complex by the fact that despite his appearance of being black, his mother was a white woman brought up as an Orthodox Jew. He doesn’t learn very much about her background during his youth, but later he pressed her for more information. The result is two stories presented simultaneously. One is the author’s life and the other is about his mother’s life.

The Color of Water is a candid and heartwarming account of how one family deals with the issue of racial differences. The author reveals how his mother, despite her different physical appearance from others in her African-American community and her continual shortage of adequate income, thrives and encourages her children to excel through decent values and using education as the key to self-improvement. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Sep 16, 2013 |
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I wrote this book for my mother, and her mother, and mothers everywhere.
In memory of Hudis Shilsky, Rev. Andrew D. McBride, and Hunter L. Jordan, Sr.
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As a boy, I never knew where my mother was from -- where she was born, who her parents were.
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About a black man who has a white mother and a complex with issues of race, religion, and identity.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 159448192X, Paperback)

Order this book ... and please don't be put off by its pallid subtitle, A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, which doesn't begin to do justice to the utterly unique and moving story contained within. The Color of Water tells the remarkable story of Ruth McBride Jordan, the two good men she married, and the 12 good children she raised. Jordan, born Rachel Shilsky, a Polish Jew, immigrated to America soon after birth; as an adult she moved to New York City, leaving her family and faith behind in Virginia. Jordan met and married a black man, making her isolation even more profound. The book is a success story, a testament to one woman's true heart, solid values, and indomitable will. Ruth Jordan battled not only racism but also poverty to raise her children and, despite being sorely tested, never wavered. In telling her story--along with her son's--The Color of Water addresses racial identity with compassion, insight, and realism. It is, in a word, inspiring, and you will finish it with unalloyed admiration for a flawed but remarkable individual. And, perhaps, a little more faith in us all.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:27 -0400)

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An African American man describes life as the son of a white mother and Black father, reflecting on his mother's contributions to his life and his confusion over his own identity.

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