cover image The Color of Water

The Color of Water

James McBride. Riverhead Hardcover, $24.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-57322-022-4

Writer and musician McBride recounts a telling conversation with his mother: ""Am I Black or White?"" ""You're a human being. Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody!"" With the help of two remarkable African American husbands (James is the youngest of eight McBride kids; his father, Rev. Andrew McBride, died before he was born in 1957, and four more children were born during a second marriage), Ruthie Shilsky McBride Jordan infused her children with two values--a respect for education and religious belief. What makes this story inspiring is that she succeeded against strong odds--raising her family in all-black lower-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, where opportunities for her children to get into major trouble abounded; how she did this is what makes this memoir read like a very well-plotted novel. An orthodox Jew born in Poland and raised in the South, Ruthie's early life included her abusive father, an itinerant rabbi who ran a grocery store where he exploited his black customers; a caring but helpless mother crippled by polio, who spoke no English; and a hardscrabble childhood in rural Virginia, where she was shunned by whites and blacks alike, because she was a Jew and also for her father's business practices. McBride skillfully alternates chapters relating his life story and his coming to terms with his mixed ethnic and religious heritage with chapters conveying his mother's travails and her development into a fervent Baptist; the latter in her own voice. This moving and unforgettable memoir needs to be read by people of all colors and faiths. (Feb.)