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Extended Audio Sample The Color of Water: A Black Mans Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: James McBride Narrator: J. D. Jackson, Susan Denaker Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2014 ISBN: 9780698183902
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Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? She’s a self-declared “light-skinned” woman evasive about her ethnicity yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut titled The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.

The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in “orchestrated chaos” with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. “Mommy,” a fiercely protective woman with “dark eyes full of pep and fire,” herded her brood to Manhattan’s free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.

In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother’s footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to the United States and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where antisemitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents’ loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.

At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all-black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. “God is the color of water,” Ruth McBride taught her children, firmly convinced that life’s blessings and values transcend race. Twice widowed and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth’s determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college—and most through graduate school. At the age of sixty-five, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.

Interspersed throughout his mother’s compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self-realization and professional success. The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Inspiring.”


  • "[A] triumph.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “As lively as a novel, a well-written, thoughtful contribution to the literature on race.”

    Washington Post Book World

  • “Vibrant.”

    Boston Globe

  • “The book is a success story, a testament to one woman’s true heart, solid values, and indomitable will. Ruth Jordan battled not only racism but also poverty to raise her children and, despite being sorely tested, never wavered. In telling her story—along with her son’s—The Color of Water addresses racial identity with compassion, insight, and realism. It is, in a word, inspiring, and you will finish it with unalloyed admiration for a flawed but remarkable individual. And, perhaps, a little more faith in us all.”

    Amazon.com, editorial review

  • “The need to clarify his racial identity prompted the author to penetrate his veiled and troubled family history…The courage and tenacity shown by this twice-widowed mother who manages to raise twelve children, all of whom go on to successful careers, are remarkable. The intertwined accounts, told alternately by mother and son, are enhanced by the gifted voices of readers Andre Braugher and Lainie Kazan. Highly recommended for public libraries.”

    Library Journal (audio review)

  • “McBride’s book tells two stories: One recalls his upbringing in a black family in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the other recounts his mother’s growing up an Orthodox Jew and leaving that life to marry a black man in 1942. JD Jackson and Susan Denaker deliver the son’s and the mother’s parts in successive sections. They’re expressive, have good voices, and are adept at pacing and at giving the text its proper emotional tone. Denaker has more opportunity to show her creativity by providing character voices, which she does well, if slightly overdone. Jackson, when relaying the conversations of the mother with her son, gets to give voice to her character, and he does so in a way that fits Denaker’s performance. The two halves of this skillful reading add up to an affecting whole.”


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