Review: The Color of Water

Hi everyone! Busy busy life. But I still find time to read.


I recently finished this book about a woman and her son growing up in the 1960s: The Color of Water by James McBride. McBride, an African-American journalist, wanted to write a book about growing up during the Civil Rights era. But he didn’t feel confident about it. Why? He didn’t have the whole story. He did this by interviewing his white, Jewish mother about her life growing up, which is devestating to read about. The struggle between Black Power vs. racial equality was themed throughout the book.

Rachel Shilsky (Ruth) grew up in a Jewish family, with a racist rabbi father and a crippled, abused mother. Ruth’s father was not well liked. And he was as immoral as they come–going to Ruth for sexual satifaction instead of his own wife, since she was crippled. He forced Ruth and her sister, Dee-Dee, to work his story from the second they walked out of school to the moment he told them they could stop. Since her father was a racist, of course Ruth has to fall in love with a black man. She leaves home completely after her mother dies. She marries a black man and she is completely shunned by her family. Pregnant with her seventh child (James), her husband dies, and she has seven kids to raise.

Another section of the book is the story through the eyes of James, her seventh child. Growing up black with a white mother, it was hard for him to understand why they were different, and why people thought of them as different. His mother never told him directly. “Brown”, she’d say.

“I asked, ‘What color is God’s spirit?’

‘God doesn’t have a spirit,’ she replied. ‘God is the color of water…’ ”

Growing up was difficult in those times, since people still didn’t want to accept color equality. Most of the kids that James befriended were black, and he grew ashamed of him mom. But that changed over time, when he began to see her point of view. When he knew of her past. Her pain. Her suffering.

I won’t spoil the storyline too much. My definition of a good read is me not wanting to put it down because I want to know what happens. The Color of Water was definitely a good read.

The way the book is written is really creative. Every other chapter is italicized, which tells the reader that Ruth is sharing her childhood. The regular text is James sharing his. Two different generations, yet they coincide so much. This is the main thing I love about the book: the same feelings, the same struggles, and arguably the same problems, in two different lives. So it’s kind of like one big story, just not exactly in chronological order. This is a good writing technique. It keeps you intrigued.

In addition, there was a lot of symbolism in the book. For example, the second chapter is in James’s point of view, and he complains about his strange white mother riding her ancient bicycle, letting every black kid on the street see her and laugh at her. The bicycle, we find later, was Ruth’s way of grieving–biking away from all her problems and not caring about what the world around her thinks. Throughout the book, everytime someone mentions a bicycle, we think of Ruth.

Also, “the Bird Who Flies” represents Ruth’s mother, who passes away while Ruth is still young. Her mother loved birds. Ruth sings a song at her funeral that her mother sang to her in Yiddish, “Birdie, birdie, fly away.” So “the Bird Who Flies” is Ruth’s crippled, abused, misunderstood…but loving and loyal mother.

Emotion is expressed throughout the book. I guess girls are more avid fans of emotion than guys are, so I can’t speak for everyone. But I will speak for myself: Emotion adds so much to the story. It helps you relate to the characters 10 times more than you would any other way. Because racial equality was a controversial subject for so long in this country, so much emotion is put into it. I think that’s another reason why this book was so powerful.

So. In conclusion. From the story style, to the symbolism, to the emotional aspects, The Color of Water was a powerful novel. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in that time period. Even someone who just loves a good story. I can guarantee you won’t be disapointed.

Anyone else read the book? What are your thoughts?


~J.L. Cordova


2 thoughts on “Review: The Color of Water

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