June 25, 2007

Book o' Mine - The Color of Water

A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

The review on the front cover says, The Color of Water will make you proud to be a member of the human race. I feel like I could stop here.

Let me begin with how this book came to be a book of mine, since I'm sitting here sighing and formulating just how to express what this book meant to me. My friend Jane, who lives hundreds of miles from me, recently picked up a book I was reading called, Eat, Pray, Love, to read along with me and discuss over the miles. We enjoyed sharing about that one, and when it came time for her to pick a book for a book club for incoming Freshman at her college this summer, she chose The Color of Water and suggested that I read it with her. I googled it and read a tad about it. I'm always in the middle of 5 books, so I try not to pick up another one unless completely necessary. This one was completely necessary.

James McBride, the author, is the eighth of 12 children born to a Jewish mother and two black fathers. This book recounts his memories of how his mother raised these kids, largely alone in Brooklyn. Those chapters alternate with chapters in her voice, describing to him what was, for most of his life, her mysterious past. She refused to talk about herself and her past while he was growing up and he had a lot of unanswered questions. Eventually she did talk (or write the things too painful to utter) and he has wonderfully woven her past with his and creating this amazing book about a mother's love, the agonies of life, the social puzzle of racial differences, and the human spirit thriving in so much meagerness. It is also about his mother's faith. A born-again Christian, she seemed to have prayed and believed her children into life, abundance and success because she had nothing else but faith.

I wanted to cry at the end of this book, but tears didn't come. It was like my insides fought back, "What the heck would you be crying for!? This is the most wonderful story you've heard and you want to cry?!" I wanted to cry because I didn't know. I didn't know in my deepest that it's true - that people really can overcome and not only overcome, but Become. I mean, sometimes we have to be reminded. James McBride reminded me and he reminded me of things I didn't even know.

The question of race was like the power of the moon in my house. It's
what made the river flow, the ocean swell, and the tide rise, but it was a
silent power, intractible, indomitable, indisputable, and thus completely
ignorable. Mommy kept us at a frantic living pace that left no time for
the problem. We thrived on thought, books, music, and art, which she fed
to us instead of food. At every opportunity she loaded five or six of us
onto the subway, paying one fare and pushing the rest of us through the
turnstiles while the token-booth clerks frowned and subway riders stared,
parading us to every free event New York City offered...

I grew up in a very small town that was probably 1% black, homogeneous in nearly every way. I never considered myself racist or prejudice, just the opposite. I never heard a racist word growing up in my home, just the opposite. I sort of resented the poking assumptions of some that I was anti-anyone or that I couldn't understand the whole race thing, just because of where my parents chose to buy a home. Throughout years and experience, I've been able to see that I was naive back then. I didn't know then what I didn't know. What a gift this book is. When I was halfway through the book, I suddenly felt that I needed to lay eyes on the author, so I jumped off the couch and googled him. I read an interview, I scrolled through pictures, I stared at him. My first impulse was I want to meet this man, I want to know his entire family, I want to go to Trenton, where he says his mom lives and "run into her" at the public library - no, I just want to write him and say two words: Thank you. The thing is, I'm not exactly sure of what I'm thankful for yet, I just know that I am.

If you haven't read this New York Times #1 bestseller yet, just plan on it. If you have, chime in.


chrysalis said...

I haven't read it yet, but I always need books for my book club list - I'm always stuck when it's my turn to pick.

Hi from Michele's.

rosemary said...

Now you did it. I promised no more books for a while and I will have to break that one.....I will tell my husband it is Jennie's fault.