The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride.
It is our April book group selection, so that means I am a little ahead of the game, which is unusual to say the least.
I enjoyed the book. McBride's mother, Ruth, was the daughter of an immigrant Polish orthodox rabbi, raised in the South. She had a largely hideous childhood, including sexual abuse at the hands of her father. When she was old enough, and fed up enough, she left to go to New York. There she met and fell in love with a black man and married him. They started both a church and a large family. He died shortly after the author's birth. Ruth remarried and continued to have children. The family finally numbered 12 kids. She outlived her second husband as well.
All twelve of the children grew up to go to college, many on to advanced degrees. Having a white mother proved to be a problem for some of them, as they became involved with different aspects of the civil rights movement and debated how best to change the system. McBride remembers questioning his mother, "Am I black or am I white?" Her answer: "You're a human being.....Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody."
The title comes from a question the author asked his mother: "What color is God?" She tells him "God is the color of water." And moves briskly on to other issues.
Most of the kids did not know their mother's history, and when he finally talks her into telling about her life, it is brief, searing and memorable. The book speaks in alternating voices, one chapter by Ruth, one by Mr. McBride. Ruth's chapters are always shorter, but emotionally devastating, though she tells her story with no reaching for emotional strings. She just lays it out, bare bones.
Mr. McBride's chapters deal on what it was like in their home growing up. Ruth had an odd parenting style, and was not much of a housekeeper or a cook. You get the picture of "verging on the edge of chaos" all the time. But she raised her kids, lost none of them to the streets or prison. An admirable feat.
I liked the book, though I didn't think it was as good as All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg that I read last year. That may be because his was a Southern story, one that resonates with me more than this one did.
But I'll remember Ruth McBride for a long time.