The Color of Water Book Summary - The Color of Water Book explained in key points

The Color of Water summary

James McBride, Lainie Kazan

Brief summary

The Color of Water is a memoir by James McBride that tells the story of his biracial upbringing and his mother's journey from her Jewish roots to her life as an African American woman. It explores the complexities of identity, race, and family.

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    The Color of Water
    Summary of key ideas

    Understanding Identity and Acceptance

    In The Color of Water, James McBride shares the story of his mother, Ruth McBride, a white Jewish woman who married a black man in 1942. The book is a dual memoir, with Ruth narrating her life in alternating chapters. Ruth's story begins in Poland, where she was born as Ruchel Dwara Zylska, and follows her family's immigration to America to escape the anti-Semitic environment in their home country.

    Ruth's father was a strict Orthodox rabbi, and her mother was a silent, submissive woman. Ruth's childhood was marked by poverty, her father's abusive behavior, and her mother's mental illness. Despite these challenges, Ruth was a bright student and a hard worker. She left home at 17, converted to Christianity, and never looked back.

    Struggles and Triumphs

    After her conversion, Ruth moved to New York City, where she met and married Andrew Dennis McBride, a black man. Together, they had eight children. Andrew died young, leaving Ruth to raise their children alone. She worked multiple jobs to support her family, and her strong work ethic and determination were passed on to her children.

    Despite the racial tensions and poverty they faced, Ruth was determined to provide her children with a better life. She moved the family to a predominantly white neighborhood and sent her children to good schools. She also encouraged them to pursue higher education, and all twelve of her children went to college.

    James' Struggle with Identity

    James, the author, struggled with his identity as a biracial child. He felt disconnected from his white heritage and was often embarrassed by his mother's refusal to discuss her past. Ruth's response to her children's questions about her race was always the same: "I'm light-skinned" or "I'm the color of water." This response only added to James' confusion about his own racial identity.

    As James grew older, he began to understand and appreciate his mother's silence. He realized that Ruth's refusal to be defined by her race was her way of protecting her children from the harsh realities of racial prejudice. Her silence was her way of shielding them from the pain she had experienced as a white woman married to a black man in a racially segregated society.

    Acceptance and Understanding

    It wasn't until Ruth's death that James began to unravel the mystery of his mother's past. He traveled to the South to trace her roots and discovered the truth about her upbringing. He learned about the hardships she faced as a white woman in a black community and the discrimination she endured for marrying a black man.

    Through this journey, James gained a deeper understanding of his mother and her choices. He came to appreciate her strength, resilience, and unwavering love for her children. He also found peace with his own racial identity, understanding that he is a product of both his black and white heritage.


    In conclusion, The Color of Water is a powerful exploration of identity, race, and family. It's a testament to the strength of a woman who refused to be defined by her race and a celebration of the love and sacrifices of a mother. Ruth's story is a reminder that our identities are complex and multifaceted, and that true acceptance comes from understanding and embracing all parts of ourselves.

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    What is The Color of Water about?

    The Color of Water by James McBride is a memoir that tells the story of the author's mother, a white Jewish woman who married a black man in 1942. The book explores themes of race, identity, and family as it delves into the complexities of their lives and the challenges they faced. It is a powerful and moving account of one woman's journey and the impact it had on her children.

    The Color of Water Review

    The Color of Water (1996) is a captivating memoir that explores the complex journey of James McBride and his mother. Here's why this book is worth your time:

    • Through dual narratives and poignant storytelling, McBride offers an intimate portrait of his identity struggle and his mother's extraordinary life.
    • The book delves into themes of race, identity, and family, providing a thought-provoking and relevant read that resonates with readers of all backgrounds.
    • With its honesty and vulnerability, the book not only educates and entertains but also leaves a lasting impact on readers, offering a rich exploration of the human experience.

    Who should read The Color of Water?

    • Readers who enjoy memoirs and personal stories
    • Those interested in themes of identity, race, and family
    • Individuals who appreciate honest and heartfelt storytelling

    About the Author

    James McBride is an accomplished author, musician, and screenwriter. He is best known for his memoir, "The Color of Water," which explores his biracial identity and the story of his mother, Ruth McBride Jordan. McBride's other notable works include the historical novel "The Good Lord Bird," which won the National Book Award, and the memoir "The Color of Water." His unique storytelling and powerful exploration of race and identity have made him a highly respected voice in literature.

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    The Color of Water FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Color of Water?

    The Color of Water is a captivating memoir about identity, family, and the power of love and resilience.

    How long does it take to read The Color of Water?

    The reading time for The Color of Water varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Color of Water a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Color of Water is a compelling and thought-provoking read. It offers a unique perspective on race, culture, and the meaning of home.

    Who is the author of The Color of Water?

    The author of The Color of Water is James McBride.

    What to read after The Color of Water?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Color of Water, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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