The Color of Water 10th Anniversary Edition

The Color of Water 10th Anniversary Edition

4.2 390
by James McBride

View All Available Formats & Editions

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the book that launched James McBride's literary career

Over two years on The New York Times bestseller list


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the book that launched James McBride's literary career

Over two years on The New York Times bestseller list

Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? 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, 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 America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism 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 life's 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 age 65, 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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

As a young black boy in Brooklyn, James McBride wondered why his mother looked different. When he asked her if she was white or black, she would answer, "I'm light-skinned." Finally, when he had become an adult, she told him her story. She was a rabbi's daughter, born in Poland, raised in the American South. McBride's tribute, now published in a 10th anniversary edition, has become a classic in healthy race relations, a topic we are all apparently still learning.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Praise for The Color of Water

"[A] triumph."—The New York Times Book Review

"As lively as a novel, a well-written, thoughtful contribution to the literature on race."—The Washington Post Book World


"Vibrant."—The Boston Globe

"James McBride evokes his childhood trek across the great racial divide with the kind of power and grace that touches and uplifts all hearts."—Bebe Moore Campbell

Meet the Author

James McBride is an accomplished musician and author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird, the #1 bestselling American classic The Color of Water, and the bestsellers Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna. He is also the author of Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal in 2016, McBride is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Brief Biography

Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Oberlin Conservatory of Music; M.A., Columbia University School of Journalism

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Color of Water 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 390 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Color of Water was an excellent novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the captivating life stories of James and of his white, Jewish mother. Each narrative is carefully woven throughout the chapters of this novel, all of which were remarkable and imaginative. I would recommend the poignant and touching accounts of James and his mother to anyone of any race, any religion, and any background.
Guest More than 1 year ago
James McBride is a wonderful writer who makes the book so interesting that it is difficult to put down. That's how good the book is to read. McBride provides excellent details and gives the reader a good view of what the characters are like and what their purpose is in the story. James McBride is an author I would like to meet and I will for sure read 'The Color of Water' again and I will most definitely read more books writen by McBride. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to others. The book will, I think, give people more of an understanding of what black people had to go through in the 1990's. It will also give people an understanding of what a white mother had to go through while raising twelve black children. Over all, I think, 'The Color of Water' is a book every one should read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very inspirational. It proves that no matter the color of your skin or the content of your background, you can make it to be anything you want to be. It makes you more aware of how times are changing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I first picked up this book, and thumbed through it, I thought that it wasn't going to be so great. Now that I have read the book, I realize that i couldn't been farther from the truth.
The switching between his story and his mother's story caught me off gaurd at first, and made me think that the two stories where about the same person. After I had read a few chapters, though, I realized that the story was being split into two different tales told by ttow different people.
Overall, this book is a great tribute to the hardships' that McBrides' mother had to endure as a child, along with the ones that she got through as an adult.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm buying this book for my seven siblings. This book brought back so many wonderful childhood memories. The places,struggles,dynamics of the family. Hard times but the best times. I laughed and I cried. The mothers strength and courage and tenacity reminded me so much of my mother. I loved this book. A day later and I'm still smiling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why are there so many bad reveiws? I showed them to my dad and he got so mad and sad that me and my brother got grounded. Jeez if you dont like something than either say it nicer or dont say it at all. P.S. my dad is James McBride
Guest More than 1 year ago
James McBride makes an outstanding performance in this book which took him fourteen years to write. The result is excellent. A beautiful honest story, full of thruths and full of life. A must-read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A path to know Ruth came in America at a tender age from Poland in 1921. The desire of her father, Tateh, to become a rabbi was the reason Ruth traveled around the country.Tateh was very prejudice,cheated on his wife and openly expressed racist opinions. Ruth did not want to have anything to do with such absurd character and converted from Judaism to Christianity. The disgust for black people by her family and her preference for black people made her own family to disowned her. The constant hardship in the south and broken relationship was a pain in her life. Harlem was the setting for the story. In Harlem, Andrews Dennis McBride married Ruth she became a christian to avoid her past life and experience. They both opened a church, New Brown Memorial Church, in memory of Reverend Brown. Dennis died of lung cancer before James was born. James last for self-identity, was the reason he weaved his own life into that of his mother. James desperate efforts to understand race, religion and work. changed his life style of drug abuse. He employed his skills in journalism and music to help him understand the intense racial difference. In my opinion, the goal he pursue was made a reality by weaving into the suffering of his mother's past life and experience. This created a path in understanding his role in employing his journalistic and musical knowledge in educating people about equality for all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. We had to read it as a school assignment, and i really thought it would be a boring killer... after i read it for school, I read it over, and over on my own spare time... Ruth is a great mother. I really recomend this book! It kept my intertained for hours!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my #1 favorite book of all times. Read it, you will love it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books growing up and stil is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for summer reading anf honestly it was one of the very best. It had a moving plot with likable characters and was just wonderul quick read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
who are both inter racial. Maybe they will read this and appreciate the strife I went through. It wasnt easy in the 60. The new divivion is that there is no division. Not!!! There will always be a difference. It is the person that makes it through the BS.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So i am a sophomore in high school and i love to read and my sisters boyfriend who is in college wants me to read it for him and he's going to pay me. Is it worth the read? Someone please respond!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Color of Water is an easy read. I read this novel with my English Advance class and everybody seemed to enjoy it as well. The context is straight foward which makes the book fun and enjoyable to read. The Color of Water makes a great summer beach book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Color of Water The main characters of the book The Color of Water are James McBride and his mother Ruth. The story tells how Ruth grew up in Suffolk, Virginia. Racism was high in the period of time Ruth became pregnant by a young black man named peter, which meant they could not tell anyone about the pregnancy. Because that meant Peter would possibly be killed if they did not keep it a secret. Ruth moved away from her family, after doing so she met a man named Dennis. After they were married Ruth became a Christian. She would have James from Dennis. Ruth was deeply depressed after Dennis died from lung cancer, all the way up to meeting her second husband Hunter Jordan. I think the book was great overall. The story jumped around a lot but overall I enjoyed the book mostly because I can relate to the story in my personal life.
taesha More than 1 year ago
very interesting this is a very interesting book that will grasp your attention and keep it. The way McBride's mother, Ruth, raised her children to believe that everyone is the same is wonderful. Not once did she tell her children that she was white or they were black. This family was a very strong one who worked hard every day. Although they were not always good children, James being one of those, they all became successful in life. When reading this book you can have a clear vision as to what was going on and who was in the story. Ruth came from a very tragic childhood, but made sure her children never experienced the same thing even if she had to raise them on her own. Every person learning about the black history should be required to read this because it is a perfect example during the prejudice times. It also shows how a white mother raising 12 black children had to live knowing that whites hated blacks and one loved and raised some of her own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The color of water is a tribute of the author James Mc Bride to his mother. A woman immigrant Jewish women that came to the united states with her parents when she was a child. She had a difficult childhood with an abuser father and disabled mother. I liked because the book has too many characters, but two principal stories in alternating chapters. The story of one of his 12 child, all of them black ones. she raised her children in the middle of the poverty, cultural and race issues. But, she fight with all this issues and her children learn the most important lesson that is a good education and be a professional person. I like when James asked to his mother " Am I black or white? and she answer " you are human being" she snapped " Educate yourself or you will be nobody". Also, James Mc story is a beautiful, he did not understand , why his mother was white and sometimes he feel ashamed to have a white mother. when he started to study in a school for whites he feel discriminated for his classmates then he created a world for him. Hi believed that his true self was a boy in the mirror. the boy in the mirror feel free, he did not seem to have an ache to be a different. that finally helped him to know the good things that he have and he could do like playing music. this book is a beautiful story. I enjoyed learning a little about the cultural and race issues in that time, emotion and love for the family.
Danielle More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book because I love stories that tells two sides of the same story like this one did, the past of Ruth McBride Jordan and present of James McBride. Ruth McBride Jordan came from Poland before moving to the Suffolk, Virginia as a child. Ruth hid her childhood from all 12 of her children. James spent his early years figuring out his mother, Ruth. Ruth McBride Jordan married two black husbands (both died young) while raising 12 black children while living in an all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. While one side of the story gets slow, the other side got better so it evens itself out. I could not put this book down to save my life. I wanted to continue reading this book even if I was growing tired. I told myself just one more chapter then bed. It never got too slow that I could put the book down until I finished it. I think everyone should read this book.
4Bandits More than 1 year ago
The story of one man's incredible mother who endured many things for love. Made me think differently about the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story goes back and forth from Ruth's past to James' past.  So the story begins with Ruth explaining that she's dead to her parents.  At the time when Ruth married Andrew Mcbride, James' real father and had children with him it was unheard of to have people of different races being together let alone getting married.  Then the story goes on to when James was a little boy and how his mom used to ride this bicycle that his stepfather found.  His  stepfather, Hunter Jordan, married his mom when she has 8 children.  Then they went on to have four more children.  Then one day he had a stroke and died.   James real dad, Andrew Mcbride died when his mother was pregnant with him.  After James stepfather died he began failing in school.  While his mother was going through her own crises dealing with all the children on her own.  He would remember how she looked so odd riding this ancient bicycle and being the only white woman around.  At that time she believed she would never marry again.  When James was a child he used to wonder why his mother looked different but she would just tell him she was light-skinned.  His mother would instill in him and his siblings values that they would carry on throughout their lives.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Give you a lot to think about