The Color of Water

A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

McBride, James

Book - 1996
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
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 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.

Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 1996
ISBN: 9781594481925
Branch Call Number: B-Ma1226m
Characteristics: xiii, 228 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm


From Library Staff

Join the discussion on July 21, 2015. “Who is Ruth McBride Jordan?” wonders her son. McBride has written an examination of race and identity and a loving tribute to his mother, a woman who would not admit she was white.

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Mar 20, 2015
  • ehbooklover rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

An interesting and eye-opening read. My only issue with the book is that I found that it was hit and miss in terms of keeping my interest: the mother's story was much more interesting than that of the author's.

Dec 09, 2014
  • WVMLStaffPicks rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

An inspiring, unforgettable unfolding of two lives: the author's mother's -- a woman of remarkable strength who flees the South and her Orthodox Jewish family and co-founds a Baptist church in Harlem with her black husband, and McBride's -- one of her twelve children. An inviting read, full of strength and spirit, pain, and humour.

Nov 08, 2014
  • huy1993 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

This book is not only about a piece of Tobias Wolff's childhood, but it also connects to our own childhood. The book emphasizes our struggle to find our own identity and our inability to make a decision.

Jul 29, 2014

When I saw this book was a biography I thought it would be boring and just with non personal information, but then I read it. This book was amazing it was so personal and the writing style allowed you to really see and feel what the author was writing. Everyone should read this book

Sep 30, 2013
  • Ellington4 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This extraordinary book, about a remarkable family and an indomitable mother, is written with grace, humor and above all love. The black author has written a tribute to his white Jewish mother, who married two fine black men and raised 12 black children--all of whom graduated from college and became doctors, teachers and, in the case of the author, a writer and musician. Race is an important part of the book, but it rises above racial matters to a level of universal humanity. I was touched by almost every chapter. The book has become a classic--deservedly so.

Aug 01, 2013

Interesting book!

Aug 01, 2013
  • Violet_Lion_31 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

What brought me to this book was my summer project for school, otherwise I might never have picked it up to read it otherwise. It was an exceptional read! It was candid, heartbreaking, and best of all inspiring. This memoir does put emphasis on race, but much to a less harsh extent, than other books may be. Mostly is a memoir of Identity, as well as family.

Jun 27, 2012
  • Brown_Dog_365 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

One of the best books that I have ever read. It is a wonderful read, and extremely sweet. The story is very capturing, and sentimental. I would definitely recommend to anyone.

May 15, 2012
  • patiencebaker rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

A thought provoking read. I finished this book quickly....couldn't stop reading! Originally I had intended to read it for Black History month: instead I enjoyed it for mother's day.

Feb 07, 2012
  • Ireadalot2 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

A wonderful tribute to his Mother. The things she did to get her kids the best education she could and not sweat the small stuff (like food and cleaning).

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Aug 01, 2013
  • Violet_Lion_31 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Violet_Lion_31 thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

Jul 24, 2012
  • death0217 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

death0217 thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 12 and 6

Jul 06, 2012

Fastgirl124 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Jun 27, 2012
  • Brown_Dog_365 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Brown_Dog_365 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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Aug 01, 2013
  • Violet_Lion_31 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

"...I resolved to jump back into my studies and rebuild myself. Like my own mother did in times of stress, I turned to God. I lay in bed at night praying to Him to make me strong, to rid me of anger, to make me a man, and He listened, and I began to change."

Aug 01, 2013
  • Violet_Lion_31 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

"Mommy's tears seemed to come from somewhere else, a place far away, a place inside her that she never let any of us children visit, and even as a boy I felt there was pain behind them."


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Jun 27, 2012
  • Brown_Dog_365 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This book is about a man who is writing about his mother's life. The mother was a Jewish woman, who in the 1950s married an African American man. She was "thrown" out of her family for what she had done, and her and her children were made fun of by other people. She never really talked about race and her life story with her children, and so they lived a very closed life style. They didn't ever think about pressuring their mother for the information that they desperately wanted to know about. They grew up in poverty, but they always managed to make it by. And to top that off, everyone was sent to college and became very successful people. Finally James McBride one of the twelve children finds out about their mother's life, and then writes a book about it. The story is a wonderful one, and is sure to bring tears of joy and sadness to your eyes.


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