15 March 2011

The Color of Water by James McBride

Born in the early stages of America's civil rights movement, James McBride faced some unusual circumstances during his life; more unusual than most people faced. His birth father was a black man, his mother was a Polish Jewish immigrant. James had seven siblings older than he. His father died from lung cancer during James' pregnancy. His mother married another black man and gave birth to four more children. Life carried on.

James' mother, Ruth, although Jewish, converted to Christianity and, with her first husband, started a church. Faith played a central role in their lives and does so throughout this memoir. McBride uses the book as a means to describe his own life but tells it along with the story of his mother's life. As difficult as it might be to be born to a black man during a time of great racial tension, I imagine Ruth faced even greater difficulties. Can you imagine the isolation she must have felt? Her family turned their back on her when her first pregnancy occurred out of wedlock and with a black man. Of course she was also an adult during the civil rights movement so she was very aware of the tensions around her, and the need to protect her young children. Even facing all of this she had a wonderful way of looking at life. Ruth was always an advocate for bettering one's self. She taught her children the values of faith, hard work, and motivation. Her children are a testament to a woman who plunged forward during radically difficult times; all twelve completed college and went on to successful lives. James became a journalist as well as a jazz musician and, obviously, an author too.

Though growing up was rough, later in life James could say that it was a blessing to have come from two worlds.

The Color of Water 10th Anniversary Edition

Oh, what is the color of water?  Ruth had the answer...read and find out.

Ruth McBride Jordan died at age 88 on 16 Jan 2010.

I read this book in November of 2006. I will read it again.


  1. Angie, thank you for your recommendations - this sounds wonderful. How do you keep track of the books you read? I am such a slow reader . . . it is difficult but I usually remember the books very well. I become quite a "friend" if it takes me weeks to read a book. Love Lyn

    PS, I got a note from Janie Cox Cohen. She and Dick are now on email - janieanddick@gmail.com.

  2. I was attracted to this book while in Barnes and Noble one day, but I never read it. It sounds wonderful! Thanks for the review.

  3. Lyn, thanks for the comment and the information.

    I'd love to tell you how I track my reading! In 2007 I came across a wonderful site dedicated to it. It's www.librarything.com .

    I had been tracking my reading since about 2003 and was able to transfer all of those books into LibraryThing over time. The site is pretty straightforward and easy to use but I have done tutorials for it in the past. If you have any questions just let me know.

    It is free for up to the first 200 books you enter. After that point it is a paid site but you can buy an unlimited, lifetime membership to the site for $20. I bought a membership immediately. I bought one for my brother Duffy too and also set my MIL up with an account.

    I can be found there as TogetherForGood.

  4. Heidi, I am sure you will enjoy reading it if you get your hands on a copy!

  5. The Color of Water was an excellent novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the captivating life stories of James and of his white, Jewish mother. Each narrative is carefully woven throughout the chapters of this novel, all of which were remarkable and imaginative. I would recommend the poignant and touching accounts of James and his mother to anyone of any race, any religion, and any background.

  6. Brasil, you are correct. Glad you enjoyed the book.


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