Monday, November 29, 2010
James McBride tells us the story of growing up black, in Harlem, then in projects in the Bronx. Raised by his white mother (his black father died before he was born) and black step-father, he was one of 12 children. He describes a loving but very strictly disciplined family life, where children were expected to be successful, respectful, and STAY IN SCHOOL. Children were due in the house by 5:00 in the evening, and slept 5 to a bed. Dinner might often be a jar of peanut butter or several spoons of sugar. He never met his mother's family and did not discover until he had completed his master's in Journalism at Columbia U, and decided to write a tribute to his mother, that she was jewish, that her family had disowned her, that her father was an orthodox Jewish rabbi who abused her, and just how hard her life had been.
The story is told both in the son's and the mother's voices. It is very well-written, and gives us an incredible insight into each mind. James' father was a preacher, and his mother converted to Christianity and insisted on church attendance and prayer from all her children. As he begins to realize that his mother is different from other mothers, he asks her "Is God Black?" "NO" she answers. "Well is he white?" Mom replies in the negative. Still the young boy persists. "Well what color is he?" "The color of water."
As he lovingly recounts his search for his mother's family, and helps her confront a past she has repressed, he comes to an acceptance of his Jewishness, his multi-cultural roots, and gives us a picture of an exceptional family. In the epilogue he gives us a breakdown of the incredible achievements of them all. Every one of the 12 graduated from college. There are two doctors, school teachers, musicians, journalists, nurses, artists, and the mother completes her degree in her late 60's.
The group spent quite a bit of time discussing the differences in parenting style of the author's growing up years and what would be allowed (or frowned upon) today. Everyone enjoyed the book and would recommend it neighbors and friends.