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

by James McBride

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5,1401011,542 (3.96)173
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography. 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 marria≥ 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.  … (more)
  1. 00
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» See also 173 mentions

English (99)  Dutch (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (101)
Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
A very interesting look into the life of a woman who chose to enter a mixed-race marriage at a time when doing so could be dangerous. It was also clear that the author was uncovering mysteries of his own childhood and putting things into perspective of his lived experience. A fascinating book! ( )
  EmScape | Apr 9, 2021 |
NA
  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
A very thoughtful memoir. ( )
  Angel.Tatum.Craddock | Dec 17, 2020 |
An intriguing glimpse at a biracial man's coming-of-age and discovery of his Jewish heritage. I'd read this 11 years ago for a class, but am re-reafing for my book club. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
I recently read, in succession, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, River of Fire by Sr. Helen Prejean and The Color of Water by James McBride. When we read affects deeply how we read. I found myself looking for the conversion points, those iridescent moments when the paradigm shifts. Someone referred to the Covid 19 pandemic as an earthquake in slow motion. Paradigm shifts can sudden or slow but most often: both.

The Color of Water: won awards years ago. It is, as a friend noted, a page turner. It is also an accessible text on racism. But I was reading it looking for that conversion point, but it’s hidden in the story. “It was typical Mommy neurotic behavior, and I didn’t fully understand it till I learned how far she had truly come.” Isn’t that the task for all of us? Or, as Greg Boyle,SJ says, “To stand in awe of the burdens they carry and not in judgment on how they carry them.” McBride’s moment was mixed in with his mother’s, “Imagine if you will 5,000 years of Jewish history landing in your lap in the e space of months. It sent me tumbling through my own abyss of sorts…” p.269
I’m in awe of people’s lives and a story of those lives well told.
( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 18, 2020 |
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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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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography. 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 marria≥ 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.  

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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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