Monday, August 1, 2011
Book Review: The Color of Water
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride (Riverhead Books) is not a new release. The book club I belong to selected this book, the 10th Anniversary Edition, for discussion.
James McBride’s father died when his mother was pregnant with James. His Jewish mother, the widow of a black man, remarries, also to a black man, a man who accepted and took responsibility for this existing family of nine, which eventually grew to a family of fourteen.
As a young boy, James realizes that he looks different from his mother and questions her whether he is black or white. “You’re a human being,” she answers. “Educate yourself or you’ll be a nobody.” Later, as he attempts to sort out life, he asks his mother, now a Christian, what color God is and is told, “God is the color of water.”
Interspersed with James’ story, are chapters written in his mother’s voice. A rabbi’s daughter born in Poland and raised in the South, she fled to New York to get away from her father’s cruelty and prejudice. She finds kindness and understanding with a black man, a devout Christian.
The Color of Water is a refreshing look at a family of mixed race. It’s a story of a mother who manages to see all twelve of her children graduate from college with advanced degrees. Yet it’s a chaotic family, with mixed messages, financial struggles and confusion, yet strong with love and compassion. The memoir faces racial issues relevant today, but goes beyond race to reach justifiable pride, humor and compassion. It’s a story about what a family can achieve through faith and sheer determination.