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The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother Paperback – February 1, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; Reissue edition (February 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573225789
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573225786
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (949 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Order this book ... and please don't be put off by its pallid subtitle, A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, which doesn't begin to do justice to the utterly unique and moving story contained within. The Color of Water tells the remarkable story of Ruth McBride Jordan, the two good men she married, and the 12 good children she raised. Jordan, born Rachel Shilsky, a Polish Jew, immigrated to America soon after birth; as an adult she moved to New York City, leaving her family and faith behind in Virginia. Jordan met and married a black man, making her isolation even more profound. The book is a success story, a testament to one woman's true heart, solid values, and indomitable will. Ruth Jordan battled not only racism but also poverty to raise her children and, despite being sorely tested, never wavered. In telling her story--along with her son's--The Color of Water addresses racial identity with compassion, insight, and realism. It is, in a word, inspiring, and you will finish it with unalloyed admiration for a flawed but remarkable individual. And, perhaps, a little more faith in us all.

From Library Journal

The need to clarify his racial identity prompted the author to penetrate his veiled and troubled family history. Ruth McBride Jordan concealed her former life as Rachel Deborah Shilsky, the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, from her children. Her grim upbringing in an abusive environment is left behind when she moves to Harlem, marries a black man, converts to Christianity, and cofounds a Baptist congregation with her husband. The courage and tenacity shown by this twice-widowed mother who manages to raise 12 children, all of whom go on to successful careers, are remarkable. The intertwined accounts, told alternately by mother and son, are enhanced by the gifted voices of readers Andre Braugher and Lainie Kazan. Highly recommended for public libraries.
Linda Bredengerd, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib., Bradford, Pa.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I found this book to be well written and to be quite interesting.
TS Frank
In his book, The Color of Water, James McBride tells the story of his mother's life and the story of his own search for identity.
Chattan Gordon
This book shows us that you face many hard times in life, but if you stick to your goals you will make it through anything.
Karl South

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

142 of 143 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is, indeed, a tribute to the author's mother. In it, the author, a man whose mother was white and his father black, tells two stories: that of his mother and his own. Tautly written in spare, clear prose, it is a wonderful story of a bi-racial family who succeeded and achieved the American dream, despite the societal obstacles placed in its way.

The author's mother was a Polish Orthodox Jew who migrated to America at the age of two with her family during the early nineteen twenties. They ultimately settled down in Virginia, where she led an isolated and lonely life; shunned by whites because she was Jewish and shunned by blacks because she was white. She was raised in a predominantly black neighborhood, where her father, a despicable and harsh man who brutalized his handicapped wife, ran a local grocery store, where he priced gouged his black clientele.

She left home and moved to New York when she was nineteen and never looked back. She met and married the author's father, a black man, when mixed race marriages were still frowned upon by both whites and blacks. Still, she always felt more comfortable around blacks than around whites. When he died sixteen years later, she married another black man who nurtured her eight children by the author's father and proceeded to give her four more children.

The author tells of his childhood, of his family, and of the issue of race that ultimately colored his life while growing up in predominantly black neighborhoods, where his mother stood out like a sore thumb because of the color of her skin. It was always an issue his mother avoided discussing with him, as for her it was not an issue. It was not until the author wrote this book that his mother discussed the issue of race within the context of her own life.
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128 of 132 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is, indeed, a tribute to the author's mother. In it, the author, a man whose mother was white and his father black, tells two stories: that of his mother and his own. Tautly written in spare, clear prose, it is a wonderful story of a bi-racial family who succeeded and achieved the American dream, despite the societal obstacles placed in its way.

The author's mother was a Polish Orthodox Jew who migrated to America at the age of two with her family during the early nineteen twenties. They ultimately settled down in Virginia, where she led an isolated and lonely life; shunned by whites because she was Jewish and shunned by blacks because she was white. She was raised in a predominantly black neighborhood, where her father, a despicable and harsh man who brutalized his handicapped wife, ran a local grocery store, where he priced gouged his black clientele.

She left home and moved to New York when she was nineteen and never looked back. She met and married the author's father, a black man, when mixed race marriages were still frowned upon by both whites and blacks. Still, she always felt more comfortable around blacks than around whites. When he died sixteen years later, she married another black man who nurtured her eight children by the author's father and proceeded to give her four more children.

The author tells of his childhood, of his family, and of the issue of race that ultimately colored his life while growing up in predominantly black neighborhoods, where his mother stood out like a sore thumb because of the color of her skin. It was always an issue his mother avoided discussing with him, as for her it was not an issue. It was not until the author wrote this book that his mother discussed the issue of race within the context of her own life.
Read more ›
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Chad Spivak on August 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading it for the second time (first time was when it was a new release), and I still can't get over how much this book touched me. This book is one incredibly moving memoir.
The Color of Water is a black man's tribute to his white Jewish mother. I really enjoyed hearing Ruth McBride Jordan's amazing story. Through the telling of her life, we learn a great deal about the the author, James McBride, as well.
We read through Ruth's story, feeling her anguish in hard times. We fight with her to put twelve children through college, and we lend our hearts out to her in hopes of easing her job of instilling proper values in her children. McBride did an excellent job of bringing the reader directly into this unforgettable story, allowing us to feel the emotion.
The book's format was quite interesting as well, alternating chapters from the mother's point of view to that of his. The Color of Water was just an all-around well written book, and a joy to read. Please read this powerful, uplifting memoir. You'll enjoy it.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Tanja L. Walker on April 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
James McBride gives us a wonderful memoir of himself and his mother, a Polish immigrant and Orthodox Jew, a daughter of a tyrannical rabbi father and timid, crippled mother, who dared to ask for something more of this life. Yet in doing so, Ruth McBride Jordan, nee Rachel Shilsky crossed what was once, and for some still is, an uncrossable barrier: she married not one, but two, black men, converting to Christianity along the way. She lost her Jewish family and isolated herself from both whites and, to a lesser extent, blacks, but raised 12 children who all became college-educated professionals.

This is not a portrait of a saint, either mother or son. But both can forgive the other, something that Ruth's Jewish family cannot do. (That, by the way, should not be seen as representative of all Jews; indeed, the epilogue shows a moving scene in which James McBride gets in touch with his Jewish side in a very positive way. Many Jewish people are caring and understanding and not at all prejudice against blacks. Ruth's family wasn't among them.) Anyway, that these are not saints make the people more human, more believeable, more loveable. And by reading it, maybe we would become more accepting of families that don't look like our own. (Though I have to confess, I might be a little worried if a family with 12 kids moved in next door, regardless of the racial makeup! :-) )
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