The Color of Water

Added The Color of Water by James McBride to my book recommendations list. An astounding true story.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at My old book review webpage is no longer up, but I’ve pasted the text of my review below.]

McBride’s remembrances of growing up in a family of twelve children would be interesting enough, but his story is complicated (and made more interesting) by the issue of race: his father is dead, his mother appears to be white, and all the kids are black. While he was growing up, James often asked his mother about her background, but she bluntly refused to answer all questions. From the introduction:

As a boy, I never knew where my mother was from–where she was born, who her parents were. When I asked she’d say, ‘God made me.’ When I asked if she was white, she’d say, ‘I’m light-skinned,’ and changed the subject. She raised twelve black children and sent us all to college and in most cases graduate school. Her children became doctors, professors, chemists, teachers–yet none of us even knew her maiden name until we were grown. It took me fourteen years to unearth her remarkable story–the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, she married a black man in 1942–and she revealed it more as a favor to me than out of any desire to revisit her past.

In finally hearing the story of his mother’s life, James begins at last to understand the complex events and decisions that make him who he is.

Classification: I picked up this book in the interests of having something to do while I ate my lunch. I have a midterm to study for tomorrow, yet I had to keep reading all afternoon until I finished this book. This is a warning! Do not read this unless you have time to get sucked in! That said, this is a wonderful book, replete with all the kindnesses and cruelties human beings can show toward one another, but presented plainly and without embellishment. It is a testament to the strength of human character and an inspiration to those of us who are sometimes deluded into thinking our lives are tough. And it will certainly make you think about race in a way you have not before. Great work.