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

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  111,770 ratings  ·  5,777 reviews
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.

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'
Paperback, 291 pages
Published January 14th 2004 by Riverhead Books (first published January 23rd 1996)
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Bernadette I think the author was proud of his mother, and felt full-filled to learn of his true heritage and what his mother survived and sacrificed for her fam…moreI think the author was proud of his mother, and felt full-filled to learn of his true heritage and what his mother survived and sacrificed for her family. (less)
Carol There may have been bad language, but I don't remember any. This book would be excellent reading for any older teen who wants to understand the histor…moreThere may have been bad language, but I don't remember any. This book would be excellent reading for any older teen who wants to understand the history of race relations a bit better. A white Jewish woman marries a black man at a time where the woman could be killed (by KKK or her neighbors) and possibly the man as well! There are disturbing occurrences, but these are things young people need to learn about, not hide from. (less)

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 ·  111,770 ratings  ·  5,777 reviews

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Start your review of The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
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
Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Such beautiful writing. Some books grab me right away just as some do not. This one grabbed me right away. This book was a tribute to the Author's mother who raised him and his 11 siblings. How she raised them and sent them all to school/ college, etc. Through the telling of his Mother's life story we also learn the Author's story as well. I enjoyed how he mixed in his Mother's history with his upbringing. I thought his writing was candid, matter of fact, and frank. His mother never dis
Meredith Holley
Aug 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Those disappointed with Run, by Ann Patchett
Recommended to Meredith 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
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
I can thank Ann Patchett for praising this book as one of her favorites, which prompted me to get a copy. James McBride has written a beautiful tribute to his mother, but it's also a story of his family history, part of which his mom had tried to hide.

James' mother, Ruth, had never talked about her past. When James went to school, he realized his mom looked different from the other moms, but she never wanted to talk about skin color, either. As an adult, when he started to ask more questions, he
Diane Barnes
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 29, 2009 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
May 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Claire Grasse
Apr 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan Rice
Dec 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
This book is inspirational in tone. Against all odds the author’s mother succeeded in raising twelve well-educated and remarkably successful children. This is something to applaud given her circumstances. Without money, without support from family and of a world that looked with disfavor on those who dare to beat their own drum she succeeds.

Racial identity, religious beliefs and an individual’s strength of will are central themes. Here is a book that looks with depth at interracial marriages.

I never read this book when it was first published in 1996, but it was required reading in the high school of the town where I lived after publication. In fact, I have the Tenth Anniversary edition of this book and in the Afterword, McBridge tell us by the tenth anniversary over two million copies had sold worldwide, translated into more than twenty languages, serialized in the New York Times, and studied by thousands of students each year in literature, sociology, history and creative writing c ...more
Jul 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
One of the most powerful journeys of family reflection that I've ever read. The writing is gorgeous, and the stories are both beautiful and arresting. ...more
Dec 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: family-memoirs
When James McBride was a boy, he asked his mother whether God was black or white. She replied that God is all colors and no colors at the same time – the color of water. But in his family’s everyday life in Red Hook, Brooklyn, race “was like the power of the moon in my house,” he writes. His mother, Ruth Jordan, was white: born the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi in Poland and raised in Virginia, she would over the years have two African-American husbands and raise 12 black children on the verge o ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing ,inspiring story of a white Jewish woman who married a black guy and raised 12 kids and sent them all to college. They all became doctors ,engineers professors leading successful lives. She had no money just her faith in God that helped her face all the hardships in life . A great memoir that will stay with me for a long time.
May 02, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Kim M
"Given my black face and upbringing it was easy for me to flee into the anonymity of blackness, yet I felt frustrated to live in a world that considers the color of your face an immediate political statement whether you like it or not. It took years before I began to accept the fact that the nebulous 'white man’s world' wasn’t as free as it looked; that class, luck, religion factored in as well; that many white individuals’ problems surpassed my own, often by a lot; that all Jews are not like my ...more
Sep 24, 2009 rated it did not like it

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
Heather K (dentist in my spare time)

A interesting story that really made me reflect, and a GORGEOUSLY narrated audiobook.

I had to fight my emotions a little as to not get defensive about the language surrounding Jews in the story (tyrannical, abusive, extremely cheap Orthodox Jewish father who drove his children away), and *breathe*. Yeah, it's a bit hard when Christianity is portrayed as the accepting, welcoming religion and Judaism as something oppressive, but the truth is that Orthodox Judaism itself isn't for the faint-heart
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Gabriel Encarnacion
Jun 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english-class
This is honestly such a beautiful book. I don’t have the words to describe it right now, so I’ll just tell you that you need to read this. And you need to read it now.
Clif Hostetler
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I read this book prior to my 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
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Saleh MoonWalker
Onvan : The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother - Nevisande : James McBride - ISBN : 1573225789 - ISBN13 : 9781573225786 - Dar 291 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 1996 ...more
This is not just a story about race and racism, although it certainly is about that. It is not just about dysfunctional families, although it certainly is about that. It is not just a story about religion, although it certainly is about that.

In The Color of Water, McBride writes a deep and thoughtful memoir/biography of both his mother and himself. On the one hand, he pulls no punches and he lays things out, the good, the bad and the ugly, but on the other hand he is not bitter and he recognizes
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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 ...more

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One of the many things we love about authors is that they tend to have some of the best reading recommendations. So, as we head into our...
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“God is the color of water. Water doesn't have a color.” 99 likes
“I asked her if I was black or white. She replied "You are a human being. Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody!” 71 likes
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