Customer Review

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary story, July 6, 2006
This review is from: The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother (10th Anniverary Edition) (Paperback)
James McBride creates a not-very-flattering portrait of race in America in this outstanding story of his white Jewish mother and black father and stepfather. Ruth McBride was born an Orthodox Jew who came to America at the age of two. The product of a traditional, arranged, loveless marriage, her family lived in the South, and from a young age she found warmth and love only in the black community. As a teenager she left home for New York, married a black man, raised 8 children, founded a church in Brooklyn, and married again as a widow and raised another 4.

Her Jewish family cut her off as if dead, and so too was her Jewish self dead, as she lived in the black community in a white world that treated her with contempt and treated her children as black. And that was fine with James, who was deeply ashamed to have a white mother, at least until he became an adult and realized her extraordinary strength and courage and faith. It took him 14 years to unearth her story, and when published 10 years ago, this memoir was a literary sensation.

Ruth had the good fortune to marry two extraordinary black men, and her Christian faith carried her past all the obstacles society created in the post-WWII period. White society scorned her for marrying black men, and her children were segregated as all other black children at that time--there has never been a "half-white" category in America. But Ruth did not let this stop her from sending her children to the best schools possible, and all 12 today are college graduates, with a good number of doctors thrown in for good measure. Throughout she was accepted and supported by her black neighbors and friends and churches. We may balk now reading of her iron discipline and corporal punishment, but it was always tempered by the love of both a mother and father. We may wonder if it would have been better for her to be open about her past with her children, but she transformed herself from Ruchel Shilsky to Ruth McBride as a matter of survival. This is an extraordinary story of an admirable woman's survival in the less than admirable society of the time, and well worth your time.
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Location: Glen Ridge, NJ USA

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