Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Color of Water by James McBride

This is a memoir written by McBride detailing his life, at the same time, it also serves to detail the story of his mother's life. James is one of 12 children who grew up the son of a black man and a white woman, living mostly in New York and New Jersey. His mother, Ruth, grew up in Suffolk, Virginia. Her family was a conservative, Jewish family where her father was a rabbi and her mother spoke only Yiddish. Ruth had a really tough childhood and adolescence that included everything from being sexually abused to having a black boyfriend (which was illegal in the South in the 30's and 40's and 50's, when this occurred) to having an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy.

I really, really liked this book.  It tells the stories of people in spare prose that is still magnificently poignant and the struggles that he had as a mixed race child that appeared black trying to deal with how his mother stuck out like a sore thumb in the predominantly black neighborhoods they grew up in. I really thought that this book did a really decent job in exploring the intersection of race and religion and economic class.  The way that the book is constructed was also really effective. McBride alternated chapters between his own voice and his mother's voice. Both voices were equally fascinating.

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