Nov 22, 2007

The Color of Water

A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
by James McBride

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. Her own mother was crippled, and her father was an abusive merchant who mistreated his wife, his daughter and his Black clients. 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, as when she instructs one child "if somebody hits you, take your fist and crack 'em". 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.

Rating: 3/5                 328 pages, 1996

1 comment:

Literary Feline said...

This sounds like an interesting book, and an emotional one at that. Thanks for the review!