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Thursday 14 January 2010

Book Review: The Color of Water

I have just finished reading The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride.

This begins as a story of a man trying to define his roots, but ultimately is the story of his Jewish mother.

She was an extraordinary woman, the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who left home and married a black man. She became a Christian, was shunned by her own family, lived hand-to-mouth in tiny houses with no money and lost her first husband to lung cancer while pregnant with their 8th child (the book's author).

Her second husband - a quiet man who had always lived alone - loved the children but could not live with the chaos of them, and so only visited on weekends (despite this, they managed to have 4 more children!). For much of the author's childhood, then, they lived as a single-parent family in the Projects and in predominantly black neighbourhoods. All 12 of her children went to college and are professionals now.

This excerpt, from which the title of the book is drawn, grabbed me - James has noticed that his mother sometimes (and only) cries in church:
I thought it was because she wanted to be black like everyone else in church, because maybe God liked black people better, and one afternoon on the way home from church I asked her whether God was black or white.

A deep sigh. "Oh, boy... God's not black. He's not white. He's a spirit."

"Does he like black or white people better?"

"He loves all people. He's a spirit."

"What's a spirit?"

"A spirit's a spirit."

"What color is God's spirit?"

"It doesn't have a color," she said. "God is the color of water. Water doesn't have a color."

and this, from the writings of the author's father - this passage really struck a chord for me:
Sometimes without conscious realization, our thoughts, our faith, our interests are entered into the past. We talk about other times, other persons, and lose our living hold on the present. Sometimes we think if we could just go back in time we would be happy. But anyone who attempts to reenter the past is sure to be disappointed. Anyone who has ever revisited the place of his birth after years of absence is shocked by the differences between the way the place actually is, and the way he had remembered it. He may walk along old familiar streets and roads, but he is a stranger in a strange land. He has thought of this place as home, but he finds he is no longer here even in spirit. He has gone on to a new and different life, and in thinking longingly of the past, he has been giving thought and interest to something that no longer really exists.

Been there.

I thoroughly recommend this book.

-- Posted from my iPhone via BlogPress app