Book Review | The Color of Water

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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

  • april bishop

    Thanks! I just ordered one. This will help out with all the unpredictable weather we get these

  • Cynthialauer

    I loved the book. As a Jew, it was something hard to read about the things that drove her away and the obvious devotion to Christianity, but it’s a lesson in the importance of love and acceptance. Rachel/Ruth’s mother was her bond with Judaism, and her father was the force driving her out. When her mother died, so did her attachment to Judaism.

  • guest

    I read this quite a while ago, so I don’t remember enough of the specifics to comment very intelligently, but I do remember that I disliked it. I just couldn’t get over the negative feelings brought up by the conversion to Christianity, and by her deep religious feeling as a Christian. It wasn’t so much that I blamed her for becoming a good Christian – obviously her childhood in her Jewish family had been horrible. But it struck me as terribly sad and depressing that there was nothing left for her in Judaism besides the memories of her abusive father. (Again, not something that was her fault, but still sad.) I couldn’t find anything inspiring about her life after she left Judaism – it was just depressing that this was the only option she saw.
    And the reason I can’t go back and check the specifics is that the book depressed me so much it was one of the few books I’ve read that I ever sold to a used bookstore. I just didn’t want it around.

    • I think she believed that pushing her children to success by getting
      an education was a strong part of her Jewish identity. That’s

      • guest

        It may be something, but it’s not very much. Especially considering what a religious Christian she’d become. (Unless I’m remembering wrong. Wasn’t she supposed to have become a pillar of her church?)

  • Anonymous

    His mom died in 2010. As an FYI.

    • Awww. Thank you for the update. I had not heard.