Thursday, August 23, 2007

James McBride's The Color of Water

This year UNC Charlotte is experimenting with a book for freshmen to read—next year the program may be expanded to all new students. I decided to check it out: The Color of Water, by James McBride. It is a really cool book, and I highly recommend it. I’ve put it on the sidebar.

It is McBride’s memoir, and although I had never heard of him (he is in fact a talented musician) I was drawn in immediately. His mother is white (and Eastern European—her own mother spoke no English) and grew up Jewish, the daughter of a rabbi in Virginia. She made her way to NYC, where she converted to Christianity and eventually had 12 children with black men. Her two husbands died tragically of natural causes. So McBride grew up poor and had intense internal debates about race.

Some chapters are his mother’s voice, as he recorded her talking about her life. She faced her own struggles, because a white woman could not safely fall in love with a black man in 1930s Virginia, and once she eventually married, her entire family disowned her. Despite isolation, poverty, etc. he makes a point of showing how effective her parenting was, so that all 12 children became successful, going to college, medical school, and excelling in various ways.

It is ultimately a story about triumph, but he is a good writer so it is never cheesy. He's coming to speak on campus in October, which should be really interesting.


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