The Color of Water
James McBride's The Color of Water is an autobiographical summary of the writer's life, weaved with the biography of his mother, Ruth McBride Jordan's life. Book reports on The Color of Water might focus on the aspects of how the differences of race and religion were overcome in favor of love, family, friendship and community. Ruth McBride (then Rachel Deborah Shilsky) was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Poland who immigrated to the United States when Ruth was two years-old. Ruth's father was a rabbi but was unable to find work to support his family in the United States and eventually settled the family in a black neighborhood in Suffolk, Virginia and opened a grocery store.
Ruth's father, Tateh, was a violent man who sexually and physically abused his daughter. He also humiliated his wife with an open affair that people in the town were aware. After graduating high school, Ruth moved to Harlem in New York where she met and married a black man named Andrew McBride (Dennis). Ruth was disowned by her family for having married a black man, her defiance of her father, and her rejection of Judaism.
To console herself, Ruth converted to Christianity and became very involved with the church. Along with her new husband, Ruth started the Brown Memorial Church which Dennis presided over as Reverend. James was Ruth and Dennis' eighth child. While Ruth was pregnant with James, Dennis died of lung cancer at the age of forty-five. Ruth eventually re-married and had four more children with her second husband, Hunter Jordan.
James was very close to his stepfather and when he died when James was fourteen, James began drinking, doing drugs, and performing poorly in school. Ruth, who always stressed the importance of a good education and sacrificed for her children to attend the best schools, moved the family to Wilmington, Delaware. James was able to turn himself around and eventually won a scholarship to study music and composition at Oberlin College. He later studied journalism at Columbia University and made a career as both a writer and jazz musician.
In summary, to Ruth's credit, during a time of segregation, all twelve of her children graduated from college and went on to successful careers. But more importantly, despite Ruth's inability to address race and religion with her family (the reason for James having written this biography) she did teach her children that love, community and family were ultimately more important