Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"The Color of Water" by James McBride

Summary: The Color of Water is McBride's memoir and tribute to his mother, a Jewish woman who left her family, married a black man, and sent twelve children to college.

Musings: The Color of Water was, for me, another memoir of a family with a fascinating history put together in a story that didn't quite work.  On the one hand, the book is a unique portrait of a determined woman living in a highly prejudiced era.  Raised Orthodox Jewish by her rabbi father, Ruth only wanted to get away, and when she found love, she let nothing stop her. She married a black man when doing so was highly dangerous. She never let people's prejudices get the better of her or her children, frequently reminding her kids that the only things that mattered were education and God.  The book alternates between McBride's and his mother's points of view, and I enjoyed the parts by Ruth the most, as her feistiness and determination were evident, even as she retold her early life as an old woman.

McBride's portion of the book was less compelling.  The various points he narrates didn't seem tied together, and although he talks frequently about his identity issues, I felt he was telling about them rather than showing.  Parts of the narrative were repeated, and it often seemed like I was rereading earlier sections of the book.

The prose dragged somewhat, sometimes filled more with generalizations than story.  I wanted to know about McBride's own journey and relationship with his mother, but the two pieces didn't fit together for me.

I know The Color of Water is a highly-praised and positively reviewed book, so I feel in some ways that I must have missed something that others picked up on.  There are interesting detail about the difficulties of interracial relationships in the early 20th century and the way in which each person constructs his/her identity, but the memoir did not come alive.

***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.


  1. I felt as though the novel was very provocative and compelling. While I do understand the need for a more descriptive relationship, I would not change it in anyway. James McBride explained parts of his life he did not understand as a child do to his mixed heritage. I feel as though his mother's and his own story tied together perfectly. And I truly feel as though he created a masterpiece. James McBride was able to bring to life the story of which he lived.

  2. I agree completely! the novel just left a void that wasn't filled. It was empty.

  3. James McBride makes an outstanding performance in this book which took him fourteen years to write. The result is excellent. A beautiful honest story, full of truths and life.