A couple of weeks ago I read The Color of Water, a really excellent book. I don’t write about every book I read, but this one was worth sharing with you.
The book tells the story a white-Jewish woman Rachel Shilsky / Ruth McBride Jordan, who married two black men and raised a very successful family in the inner city. Alternating chapters, the book tells the story of her childhood from her perspective and the story of her adult life from her son, the author, James McBride’s perspective. The Color of Water reads like a novel but is biographical.
Rachel’s father was a rabbi in Virginia. According to his daughter, he was a really horrible person. He was violent, unloving and unfaithful to his crippled wife. He was cheap, racist and a hypocrite. Rachel’s experience with her father was her only Jewish experience and eventually led her to a life as far from Judaism as she could run. Reading about her limited understanding of her Judaism and her father’s gross behavior was depressing.
But despite it all, she persevered as a person. She left Judaism but she turned herself into a very strong woman. She led a large family against the odds to great success. Perhaps most importantly and ironically, her son attributes their success to her “Jewishness”. She pushed her children to get an education and stereotypically, many of them are “professionals” that would make any yiddishe mama proud.
As much as Rachel ran away from her Jewish roots, those Jewish values were nevertheless instilled in her family and led them to great success.
The book is fascinating, educational, heartwarming, heartrending and challenging. It is well written, fun to read, leaves room for much discussion, indeed, the book is part of many high school and college curricula and I recommend the book for teens and adults.
I would love to meet Mr. McBride and his mother after reading this book. I am pretty sure you will too.
Purchase here: The Color of Water