Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Color of Water - James McBride

As I make my way through this list of books, I’m choosing only by title. I am not reading any synopsis or review before choosing my next book – I thought this would make it more interesting. I’ll be honest, when I downloaded “The Color of Water” onto my Kindle and read what it was about I thought I was going to be in for another long read. Boy was I wrong. I couldn’t put this book down and FLEW through it in about 4 days!
McBride does a sort of split narrative with this novel. His mother, Ruth, narrates half of this book (her chapters are in italics) and tells the mysterious and surprising story of her past. McBride narrates the other half and tells the story of his childhood and growing up with a black father and a white mother in the 1960’s.
Ruth immigrated to America as a young girl with her Polish Jewish family. Her family led a strict Jewish lifestyle as her father was a traveling Rabbi. They eventually settled in Suffolk, Virginia where her father opened a small convenience store where the entire family put in tireless hours. Ruth’s childhood was full of many struggles and she was constantly searching for her place among a people that she never fully connected with. She eventually cuts ties with her family and runs off to New York where, in 1942, marries Dennis, a black man.
These years, spent in the projects of New York, are described as the happiest years of Ruth’s life. Together, they have 8 children and start up a church, where Dennis preaches. While Ruth is pregnant with their 8th child, Dennis is diagnosed with lung cancer and dies soon after. Left with 8 children to take care of, Ruth struggles to find a way to support her family. She then meets Hunter Jordan, falls in love and marries. Together, they have 4 more children.
James, the 8th child, grows up in a chaotic family of 14 and weaves his story in with that of his mother’s. Much like his mother, he struggles to find his place in a fast-changing world who still does not accept his mixed race family. His mother was the absolute leader of their family and instilled education, values and religion on each of her children. Race was never an issue for Ruth and did her best to influence the same belief on her children. This was a difficult task during a time when the civil rights movement was in full force.
I was completely enthralled with this story from the first page. It was an incredibly interesting dynamic to see the life of a young, white Jewish girl pinned side by side with the struggles of a young, mixed race child growing up in the 1960’s. Ruth is a compelling character who despite the obstacles she was faced with, manages to raise 12 children and send each and every one of them to college during an extraordinarily, racially charged time in American history. I found myself cheering on Ruth and her family and being completely amazed at how James narrated the chaos of his childhood.
If you are in the mood, for a surprising and uplifting family story full of love, heartache, triumph and struggle – go pick up this book and get reading.
Rating – Excellent – 9 out of 10

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