In this Anisfield-Wolf Book Award-winning memoir, McBride paints a portrait of growing up in a black neighborhood as the child of an interracial marriage. Although raised an Orthodox Jew in the South, McBride's mother abandoned her heritage, moved to Harlem, and married a black man.
The triumph of the book -- and of their lives -- is that race and religion are transcended in these interwoven histories by family love, the sheer force of a mother's will and her unshakable insistence that only two things really mattered: school and church ... But only as an adult did James McBride convince his mother -- now Ruth McBride Jordan -- to tell the story of Rachel Shilsky, to describe her past. And it is her voice -- unique, incisive, at once unsparing and ironic -- that is dominant in this paired history, and its richest contribution ... The two stories, son's and mother's, beautifully juxtaposed, strike a graceful note at a time (we are constantly told) of racial polarization. Together, I think, they give new meaning to some tired phrases. Try 'multicultural' and, even more, 'family values.'
What makes this story inspiring is that she succeeded against strong odds--raising her family in all-black lower-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, where opportunities for her children to get into major trouble abounded; how she did this is what makes this memoir read like a very well-plotted novel ... McBride skillfully alternates chapters relating his life story and his coming to terms with his mixed ethnic and religious heritage with chapters conveying his mother's travails and her development into a fervent Baptist; the latter in her own voice. This moving and unforgettable memoir needs to be read by people of all colors and faiths.
An eloquent narrative in which a young black man searches for his roots--against the wishes of his mother ... McBride's mother should take much pleasure in this loving if sometimes uncomfortable memoir, which embodies family values of the best kind. Other readers will take pleasure in it as well.