Read The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride Free Online
Book Title: The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother|
Date of issue: February 7th 2006
ISBN 13: 9781594481925
The author of the book: James McBride
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 867 KB
Edition: Riverhead Books
Read full description of the books The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother:Such a gem to me. McBride is a black journalist, novelist, and jazz musician who recognizes what a wonder his mother Ruth was when she raised him and 11 siblings and gets her to open up about her secretive past. The book is lyrical and tender, tough and heartbreaking, and suffused with tales of courage balanced with humor.
McBride alternates skillfully between Ruth talking about her early history and his own perspective from the inside of the family she nurtured in Brooklyn and Queens in the turbulent 60’s. James struggles to find a path to his black identity, taking a short tour of juvenile delinquency. He comes to understand his grounding in how his mother never saw things in black and white. When asked by her children about how it is she is not black, she just deflects the question by saying she is light-skinned and nagging them to get back to their education. Somehow the values she upheld was an anchor that contributed to all 12 kids getting a college education and most advanced degrees. When McBride as an adult gets her to submit to taped interviews, her marvelous voice finally comes through about her hidden past as a Polish Jew with a tough upbringing:
You want me to talk about my family and here I have been dead to them for fifty years. Leave me alone. Don’t bother me. They don’t want no parts of me, I don’t want no parts of them. Hurry up and get the interview over with. I want to watch Dallas. …
I was born an Orthodox Jew on April 1, 1921, April Fool’s Day in Poland. I don’t remember the name of the town where I was born, but I do remember my Jewish name: Ruchel Dwajra Zylska. My parents got rid of that name when we came to America and changed it to Rachel Deborah Shilsky, and I got rid of that name when I was nineteen and never used it again after I left Virginia for good in 1941. Rachel Shilsky is dead as far as I am concerned. She had to die for me, the rest of me, to live.
From that introduction, you can see the trove of heritage McBride's quest for roots gets into through his mother’s story. Her father was an itinerant rabbi, who came to run a store for a black neighborhood in rural Virginia in the segregated south. His brutality toward her mother and her was one reason Ruth ran away to Harlem; the other was that she had fallen in love at 15 with a black boy and was shunted to New York for family help with an abortion. Ruth finds a niche in the black community after being shunned by aunts and uncles. She gets a job at the Apollo Theater and enjoys the music scene. She ends up marrying a kind-hearted man, Andrew McBride, and having 8 kids with him, including James as the last, born after he died. His future stepfather, Dennis, came to their aid in the aftermath of the tragedy and soon charms her into marriage:
He came from a home where kindness was a way of life. I wanted to be in this kind of family. I was proud to join it, and they were happy to have me.
The welcoming feeling she got from Dennis’ mother in North Carolina (“God bless you, Ruth, because you’re our daughter now. Marry that man”) is consistent with the community she felt with blacks, accounting for why James had a white mother:
That’s how black folk thought back then. That’s why I never veered from the black side. I would never even have thought of marrying a white man.
Ruth’s journey seems so improbable, but it still epitomizes a theme from the river of stories that frame the immigrant experience in America. The blending of culture and race made some lovely blooms. Just because a book is a memoir doesn’t mean it can’t have the wonderful architecture of great fiction. I don’t read a lot of memoirs and recognize I should read more. My five stars puts this one up there with “Angela’s Ashes” and “The Glass Castle” (and with more joy, less torment), and for my reading pleasure it was a notch above “The Road from Coorain” and “Growing Up.”
Read information about the authorJames McBride is a native New Yorker and a graduate of New York City public schools. He studied composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and received his Masters in Journalism from Columbia University in New York at age 22. He holds several honorary doctorates and is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. He is married with three children. He lives in Pennsylvania and New York.
James McBride is a former staff writer for The Washington Post, People Magazine, and The Boston Globe. His work has also appeared in Essence, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. His April, 2007 National Geographic story entitled “Hip Hop Planet” is considered a respected treatise on African American music and culture.
As a musician, he has written songs (music and lyrics) for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., and Gary Burton, among others. He served as a tenor saxophone sideman for jazz legend Little Jimmy Scott. He is the recipient of several awards for his work as a composer in musical theater including the Stephen Sondheim Award and the Richard Rodgers Foundation Horizon Award. His “Riffin’ and Pontificatin’ ” Tour, a nationwide tour of high schools and colleges promoting reading through jazz, was captured in a 2003 Comcast documentary. He has been featured on national radio and television programs in America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
---from his official website
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