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

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4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  78,148 Ratings  ·  3,795 Reviews
This is James McBride's tribute to his remarkable, eccentric, determined mother, and an eloquent exploration of what family and the colour of your skin really means
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 1st 1998 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published January 23rd 1996)
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Tobias Roeloffs While only the author himself can give a true answer, I'm sure he felt saddened by what happened to his mother. When you write, especially about…moreWhile only the author himself can give a true answer, I'm sure he felt saddened by what happened to his mother. When you write, especially about someone real, you live their experiences through their eyes. There were plenty of things his mother went through that I would never want to experience, even secondhand, especially what she endured at the hands of her own father. He was also probably very upset about the hardships that his family (particularly his siblings) had to endure. That said, I bet he was proud that the thirteen of them had overcome so much and could serve as an inspiration for generations to come.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Michael
Such a gem to me. McBride is a black journalist, novelist, and jazz musician who recognizes what a wonder his mother Ruth was when she raised him and 11 siblings and gets her to open up about her secretive past. The book is lyrical and tender, tough and heartbreaking, and suffused with tales of courage balanced with humor.

McBride alternates skillfully between Ruth talking about her early history and his own perspective from the inside of the family she nurtured in Brooklyn and Queens in the tur
...more
Amanda
Aug 17, 2007 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with a mother!
I read so many books, that very few actually stick with me, even 8 years after the fact. I cannot recommend this book enough. McBride writes from two different points of view: himself, and his mother. He parallels his growing up in poverty to his mother's story of moving to Harlem, before the civil rights movement. It is amazing. I had the opportunity to meet the author at a writer's conference right after we read this for bookclub, and he is a gentle soul who has the most respect for his mother ...more
Sparrow
Jul 10, 2009 Sparrow rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those disappointed with Run, by Ann Patchett
Recommended to Sparrow by: Denise Jubber
If Cheaper By the Dozen, by Frank Gilbraith Jr., and The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, ever somehow met and had an "I like you as a friend, not a lover" child, The Color of Water would be it - race and a ridiculous amount of kids. The concept is compelling, and I would recommend this book to anyone who was disappointed that Run, Ann Patchett's most recent book, didn't deal more directly with race issues in a mixed-race family. Nominally, this book is a tribute to James McBride's mother, who was ...more
T.J.
May 13, 2008 T.J. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: multiracial folk, human interest story readers
I am so thankful this book exists. As a child of a black father and a white mother, I was immensely drawn into the narrative of James MacBride's life. My story is not one as connected to the racism he encountered, but it nonetheless moved me considerably. He paints a tender, endearing, nuanced portrait of his mother and her life and times, and manages to take a deep and conflicting life story and not sink into maudlin recollection or saccharine moralism. An amazing tale.
Rachel
Oct 21, 2009 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be very relevant to my life. My husband is black and he was raised by his white mother. He has spoken about the conflict that he felt between his white and black side, especially when he was in the Army. To white to hang out with the black guys, to black to hang out with the white guys. He felt very strongly for a long time that it was his duty to marry a black woman because he didn't want his children to feel the same conflict. Of course, that isn't what happened, because I ...more
Diane Barnes
Oct 20, 2014 Diane Barnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The mere fact that this woman raised 12 children, sent them all to college and watched them become successful professionals, with no money, with no help from her own family members, really with not much at all except her belief in God and incredible courage; well, this qualifies her for sainthood in my book. That she did this as a white woman married to black men, loved them both, watched both of them die, then struggled on alone, is a superhuman feat. Throw in the fact that she was the daughter ...more
Jen
What a beautiful and poignant read. This is McBride's tribute to his white mother. HIs story touches upon issues of racism, socioeconomics, identity and religion. From a young age, McBride struggled to find where he fit into this world as a black man with a white mother. At an early age, trying to find answers, he asked his mother what colour is God. Her response, "He is the color of water." The story is juxtaposed along with his mother's, with the challenges they both faced defining themselves. ...more
Sara
Aug 16, 2007 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book spent two years on the new york times bestseller list and it's easy to see why. mcbride's "tribute" is a beautiful story, rich with detail, about his own life and his mother's. he smartly introduces almost every chapter with memories from his mother's life, in her own voice. as he tells us at the beginning and reminds us at the end, he spent 8 years talking to her and recording their conversations, so the memories in her voice are an interesting contrast to the memories in his own voic ...more
Sarah
Dec 13, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sarah by: Kerri Schuster
This book made me feel lucky, lucky that James McBride and his mother were willing to share their story with the world. I wished I could be a family friend and get to know the characters event better. But since that isn't possible I'm glad that the author decided to write this memoir and share his family story so that people like me can experience it and learn from it.
Jan Rice
Jan 11, 2014 Jan Rice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book had me cringing, like when Ruth McBride Jordan's father was stingy, when he was a slave driver, when he was abusive, when he was racist. It made me proud, when the author, more than once, talked about Jews who related to him like a person (instead of differently because he's black).

Rachel Shilsky's family immigrated to America with her parents and siblings in 1923, when she was two. Her father was a vigorous person, a survivor, but not a good person. He had used his wife as a ticket to
...more
Claire Grasse
Yet another book that I wanted desperately to love like everyone else. I just couldn't though. While the rest of America seemed to be inspired, I just found it mildly depressing. I hate it when that happens. Synopsis in a nutshell:

Mean, stingy rabbi beats his crippled wife, makes his family miserable, and repeatedly molests his daughter.

Daughter (white) gets pregnant by a man (black) and has an abortion (circa 1940s. Both actions highly illegal.).

Jewish family falls apart in an irredeemably depr
...more
هالةْ أمين

إن لم تكن تعلم فلا بد أنك قرأت شيئا أو سمعت عن تلك المعضلة في زمن الستينات والسبعينات وما قبلهما
مشكلة البيض والسود العنصرية والتضييق المعيشي على كل من هو أسود في مجتمع البيض
وكره كل من هو أبيض في مجتمع السود
أضف على هذا الموضوع رشة يهودية أو فلنقل رشة دينية
..
التناوب في سرد السيرة الذاتية لحياة شخصين أحدهم أبيض والآخر أسود
كان جميلا وممتعا يجذبك الحديث لتعرف كيف عاش كلا من الطرفين تحت ظل تلك الظروف
ذلك الصخب الذي حوته حياة جيمز مؤلف الكتاب
وتلك الشجاعة التي تحلت بها راخيل إو روث والدة جيمز
وفكرة انجاب
...more
Gabriel Encarnacion
Jun 06, 2007 Gabriel Encarnacion rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: yes
Have you ever thought about not living with your real mom after being with her while you growing up all your life. The book " The Color of Water" is about a teenage kid who thinks that hes not living with his real mother. The reason he thinks that is because they are not the same color skin and his mother wont explain why is it like that. His fathers is in jail for committing a crime so he really doesnt know alot about him because he didnt grow up with him. This kid has a lot of struggles in lif ...more
Eric_W
Jul 16, 2009 Eric_W rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
"What color is God?" asks the young James of his mother, confused by all the white images of Jesus that surround him and his black father and mother. "God's not black. He's not white. . . . God is the color of water," is the wonderful response of Rachel, an astonishingly gifted and driven woman who despite numerous adversities managed to raise, often on her own, twelve amazing children. They all grew up to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, a chemistry teacher, social worker or other kind of professio ...more
Gray Side
Dec 09, 2012 Gray Side rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
كتاب لون الماء عبارة عن سيرتين ذاتية للكاتب الأسود جيمز ماكبرايد ووالدته اليهودية البيضاء .

يأخذ الحديث عن العنصرية بعداً آخر أكثر عمقاً عندما تكون التجربة من حياة الكاتب وهذا الدمج العِرقي والديني الغريب السابق لآوانه !

أسرة والدته (راحيل) أقامت مراسم الحداد على روحها في عادة يهودية قديمة تشير إلى التخلّي عنها واعتبارها من الأموات ، ظلت حياتها السابقة سراً دفيناً حتى كانت تجربة هذا الكتاب الذي شاركت به فقط حتى يصبح ابنها غنياً ..

تتحدث راحيل أو روث كما تسمي نفسها عن والدتها شبه الكسيحة ووالدها ال
...more
aarthi
Dec 03, 2007 aarthi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book_club
We read this in my book club, and the consensus was: Incredible story, incredible journey, and in the passages narrated by the voice of his mother, an incredibly moving and authentic voice. However, this seems to suffer from its form/style - the author is trained as a journalist, and expanded an article he initially wrote about his mother and family into a book, and it reads journalistically instead of like a memoir. You feel distant and collected when you want to feel wracked with the emotions, ...more
Joanna
May 21, 2010 Joanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a revelation full of inspiration and honesty. Being mixed, I understood James' confusion with identity, especially in his mother's time and his time as well: a time when you could only be black or white. His Jewish mother is amazing, ignoring the issue of race and encouraging her children to go to school. She is a strong woman who was able to leave her past and sorrow behind in order to find happiness, which she found in Harlem with the African American community. She fell in love ...more
Ebtihal Abuali
Nov 12, 2015 Ebtihal Abuali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memior
نظريا هذا الكتاب سيرتين واحدة للكاتب واخرى لأمه. وجدت سيرة الأم طاغية وهي اساس واهم ما في القصة. شجاعتها في اتخاذ احد اهم قرارات الحياة، توزعها بين محبتها لأمها ومحبتها لذاتها ورغبتها بأن تعيش الحب وتجرب حياة اخرى مطمئنة حتى اذا عنى ذلك الانفصال المؤلم عن امها وعائلتها. هل ندمت وهي تُنهك وتستهلك سنوات شبابها في تربية طفلا؟ لم تقل ذلك ابدا ولا يبدو.
لم تبد الام قلقة ابدا حول اشكالية اللون. حول علاقتها وهي البيضاء برجل واطفال سود، حول معيشتها في مجتمع أسود يعتبر الابيض عدوا في زمن كانت لا تزال في
...more
Glenna
Apr 07, 2009 Glenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story is about the daughter of an orthodox jewish rabbi who married a black man in 1942. She raised 12 children. Her children grew up not knowing anything about their mother's past. It's written by one of her sons. It is quite an amazing story. Absolutely loved the last chapter. The insights he finds on this journey helps him lay his own demons to rest.

Camie
Jul 21, 2013 Camie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rated 4 stars Read as memoir challenge for KUYH book club. A A black man's tribute to his amazing white mother who raised 12 successful and well educated children through much hardship and personal sacrifice. When as a child he asked his mother what color God was her reply was , " the color of water. " Hence the title of this inspiring read.
Karolyn Sherwood
It's difficult to argue with a well-told memoir. It's not like we can fact check it, or argue with people's own feelings and memories. But I found no faults with THE COLOR OF WATER, by James McBride. His is an amazing story. Or, more accurately, The Color of Water is the story of McBride's remarkable mother. If this were a fictional tale, you'd swear it couldn't possibly be true.

McBride's mother, Rachel Deborah Shilsky, aka Ruth McBride Jordan, was a white, Southern, Jewish woman who had twelve
...more
Lyn Elliott
This book will stay with me for a long time, partly because of the vivid portrayal of the main characters and the worlds I which they live/d and partly because this adds, for me, new insights into issues of identity that arise for people with diverse cultural backgrounds. In this story, colour, race and religion are all minefields to be negotiated. Ruth, 'Mommy', deals with rejection from her own family and the many whites who despise her marriage to black men by ignoring it, shutting it out of ...more
Stefan
Sep 24, 2009 Stefan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Follows the typical memoir formula: Someone lives through countless tragedies and unspeakable abuse from everyone and anyone they encounter, yet manage to be extraordinarily successful--which allows them to write a self-aggrandizing book about themselves. In this case, McBride tells the story of his mother's incredibly hard life as a white Jewish woman growing up in the south, who marries a black man and ultimately raises 12 interracial children, mostly in a Brooklyn housing project in the 1960s
...more
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Memoirs have popular for a while now, and I hate to be on the bandwagon with everyone else. But this story really touched me. I love it when a book can bring me to weep or laugh out loud. This is one of those. The author's style is matter of fact, and economical. McBride alternates between his own story, and his mother's story. At the culmination, he has brought both stories together. He allows his mother to tell her own story in her own words. When discussing his own memories, he manages to tel ...more
Lisa
Feb 25, 2009 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first started reading this book, I wondered why my friend had recommended it to me. This true story relates the life experiences of a young Jewish woman who eventually determines to choose a different and unconvential path for her life and is completely disowned by her Jewish family. Some of the events in her youth were difficult to read about, but in the end I came to admire her resiliency and strength. Despite her hardships, her sacrifices and determination on behalf of her 12 children ...more
Paula Grace
Jan 06, 2014 Paula Grace rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Clif Hostetler
Jan 09, 2014 Clif Hostetler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I read this book prior to my Goodreads.com days so I've not written my own review. But I was reminded of it this morning when I found it on my PageADay Book Lover's Calendar. The following review is from that calendar.

A beautifully rendered memoir, and a loving tribute to a mother who taught her son that the only identity that matters is the one you carve out for yourself. Raised in the projects in Brooklyn, young James knew his mother looked different from other mothers, but it wasn’t until he
...more
سمية
Jul 28, 2013 سمية rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: مفضلة
رائعة هذه السيرة الذاتية لـ جيمز ماكبرايد والتي يتحدث فيها عن والدته وعن أسرته .
وعن قصة عائلة كبيرة ومناضلة وناجحة .
شدتني كثيراً هذه السيرة وقرأتها في جلسة واحدة لم يجعلني أتوقف إلا قيامي للإفطار والصلاة وعدت لقراءتها وانتهيت منها بعد ذلك بساعات
قصة جميز ماكبرايد ووالدته تبدأ عندما هاجرَ والديها اليهوديان من أوروبا الى أمريكا ثم زواجها من رجل أسود
وكيف تعاملت أسرتها والمجتمع مع هذا الموضوع ثم من بعد ذلك تعامل أطفالها مع اختلاف لون أمهم عنهم وعن حياتهم كأسرة وعن ما عانوه وما حققوه .
بعد قراءة هذا ا
...more
Eliece
May 19, 2009 Eliece rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memior (I just know I spell that word wrong) by James McBride tells both his own story and that of his mother, a white Jewish woman who married a black man in the 1940's. It deals with a wide range of issues including race, his extraordinary mother, religion, education, poverty, family ties, and a person's need to understand their roots. I liked his writing style. It felt like he was sitting in my family room telling me his story. Very personal and often thought-provoking.
Mona
Jan 10, 2013 Mona rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
رغم اني انهيت الرواية في يومين لكن تركت في نفسي اثر و اسئلة ستبقى معي لفترة
ما هو لون روح الله؟ ليس لها لون . لون الله هو لون الماء و الماء ليس له لون
"كان هناك عالمان يتفجران داخلي و يحاولان الخروج و كان علي ان اكتشف اكثر هن هويتي و من اجل ذلك كان علي ان اكتشف من هي أمي"
رواية لون الماء هي سيرة ذاتية لعازف السكسفون و الصحفي "جيمز ماكبرايد" و من بين صفخاتها ستجدون صفحات عن حياة والدته روث اليهودية كتبت بلون اغمق و تفاصيل عن واقع الحياة الامريكية في فترة الستينات و السبعينيات
لا تتحدث الرواية عن الت
...more
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James McBride is a native New Yorker and a graduate of New York City public schools. He studied composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and received his Masters in Journalism from Columbia University in New York at age 22. He holds several honorary doctorates and is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. He is married with three children. He lives in ...more
More about James McBride...

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“God is the color of water. Water doesn't have a color.” 70 likes
“It was always so hot, and everyone was so polite, and everything was all surface but underneath it was like a bomb waiting to go off. I always felt that way about the South, that beneath the smiles and southern hospitality and politeness were a lot of guns and liquor and secrets.” 55 likes
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