The Color of Water - James McBride

The Color of Water

By James McBride

  • Release Date: 1997-02-01
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 4.5
From 241 Ratings


The New York Times bestselling story from the author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction.

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's past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.
The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in "orchestrated chaos" with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. "Mommy," a fiercely protective woman with "dark eyes full of pep and fire," herded her brood to Manhattan's free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.

In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother's footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents' loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.

At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all- black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. "God is the color of water," Ruth McBride taught her children, firmly convinced that life's blessings and life's values transcend race. Twice widowed, and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth's determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college—and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.

Interspersed throughout his mother's compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. The Color of Water 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.



  • One of my favorite books

    By chrrrypie
    It's fascinating to see the authors experience with racism. Showing the color of your skin really doesn't matter, bc humans through time are always pushing away the people that are different
  • Sometimes sad, sometimes funny but 100%honest

    By Long legion
    James mcbride is a wonderful writer who I think could take any subject and make it fascinating. I've read fiction from him but this is the only non fiction I've read. It was very well written and I enjoyed it
  • The Color of Water Review

    By Big MacAvoy
    This was a great book! Highly recommended.
  • Five Stars

    By Hopieloveslit
    Very insightful
  • The color of water

    By Bigdawg2535
    This book is amazing!! It is life changing and you will never forget this when you read it! Def recommend!!!!😃😃😃
  • The Color Of Water Great Book To Read

    By S3H4
    The Color Of Water is a Great Book To Read talk about how a white Jewish girl married a black man in 1940's it also tell about her father being and rapping his daughter and being always cheap. Great book to read for knowledge
  • Awesome Reading

    By Raquig
    I read this book years ago in college and read it again not too long ago. The reading is catching and the way the story is told makes feel part of the plot. Totally would recommend it.
  • Good book

    By Tmannpd
    Very good book about a struggle of life and the extreme conflict James' mother endures. Seemed a little long winded but a great book.
  • Is a great read

    By Cat Icarus
    I enjoyed reading this book, however it took me till chapter six to understand that there were two different narrators. This could've been pointed out earlier, but after that I understood it.
  • Just phenomenal!

    By Jenibeni123