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


The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother Cover

ISBN13: 9781594481925
ISBN10: 159448192x
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The New York Times bestselling story from the author of The Good Lord Bird, 2013 National Book Award Finalist in 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.


"[A] triumph." The New York Times Book Review


"As lively as a novel, a well-written, thoughtful contribution to the literature on race." The Washington Post Book World


With a new Introduction to this touching homage to his mother, the author paints a portrait of growing up in a black neighborhood as the child of an interracial marriage. Although raised an Orthodox Jew in the South, McBride's mother abandoned her heritage, moved to Harlem, and married a black man.

About the Author

James McBride is an accomplished musician and author of the New York Times bestseller, The Color of Water. His most recent book, The Good Lord Bird, is a 2013 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction. His second book, Miracle at St. Anna, was optioned for film in 2007 by Black Butterfly Productions with noted American filmmaker Spike Lee directing and co-producing. He is also the author of Song Yet Sung, available from Riverhead Books. McBride has written for the Washington Post, People, the Boston Globe, Essence, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. He is a graduate of Oberlin College. He was awarded a masters in journalism from New York's Columbia University at the age of twenty-two. McBride holds several honorary doctorates and is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. McBride lives in Pennsylvania and New York.

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Rachel Coker, January 25, 2011 (view all comments by Rachel Coker)
This was a selection for our synagogue's book club. It's interesting and well written, with lots of great detail about life in a big family and New York City and the South in the '50s and '60s. It didn't inspire me or radically change my views about race or anything like that, but I think I have pretty high expectations for memoirs at this point. I will say that I find it amazing and odd that a woman could keep so much of her personal history from her children for so long.
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chocochic53, May 3, 2009 (view all comments by chocochic53)
The Color of Water is an fascinating memoir. As a Caucasian living in a predominately Caucasian town in the U.S. I have never experienced many issues with race. Seeing the struggle that James went through as a black man with a white mother trying to discover the importance of race and background was very interesting and gave me a view into a completely different way of life, even though it is still in the same country as me. I would recommend this book to people of any ethnicity, even if you don't like discussing or reading about race. This is not a normal story and it opened my eyes in incredible ways.
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Jeane, April 2, 2008 (view all comments by Jeane)
This memoir tells the story of two members of a family: James McBride and his mother, Ruth. Ruth was the daughter of immigrant Orthodox Jews. She grew up in the South under the hand of an abusive father. As soon as she was old enough, Ruth fled north, where she married a Black man, converted to Christianity, founded a Baptist church, and eventually raised twelve children. James was the youngest of these. He tells the story of growing up in a poor, bi-racial household alongside the story of his mother's life, which he had to wheedle out of her. As much as The Color of Water addresses issues of racism, identity and religion, it is more about family values. It is about how one rather eccentric woman lived the way she wanted to without regard to anyone's opinion, and instilled in her children strong moral codes and work ethic. They learned above all from their mother the value of education and how to make do for themselves- for they all graduated from college. However, other examples of Ruth's parenting skills leave something to be desired. Her children suffered constantly from huger and poverty, and she was extremely secretive about her own past and family, even when questioned about it by her children. A very unsettling book, by any accounts.
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Product Details

A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
Mcbride, James
McBride, James
Riverhead Trade
People of Color
Racially mixed people
Personal Memoirs
Parenting - Parent & Adult Child
cultural heritage
Discrimination & Race Relations
New york (n.y.)
Racially mixed people - New York (State) -
Biography - General
Reading Skills
Edition Number:
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Featured Titles » General
Featured Titles » History and Social Science
Featured Titles » Literature
Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Family Issues
History and Social Science » African American Studies » General
History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » General

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother Used Trade Paper
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$3.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Riverhead Trade - English 9781594481925 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[A] triumph."
"Review" by , "As lively as a novel, a well-written, thoughtful contribution to the literature on race."
"Synopsis" by , With a new Introduction to this touching homage to his mother, the author paints a portrait of growing up in a black neighborhood as the child of an interracial marriage. Although raised an Orthodox Jew in the South, McBride's mother abandoned her heritage, moved to Harlem, and married a black man.
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