The Color of Water by James McBride
McBride is deeply respectful of his mother, and yet clear about how her experiences have left her somewhat fragmented. On the up side, she sent all 12 of her children to college, and all are professionals. She was also widowed by 2 husbands, both of them African-American men, and when James left for college, she had only about $14 to give him.
The story is remarkable, and McBride tells it like the composer he is. He switches from his mother's voice to his own, seeming to skip around at times. This echoes the fragmentation of the information that his mother is willing to give him about her own past and her total break with her Jewish family (they sat shiva for her, meaning she was dead to them, when she married a black man).
It's not until the last few chapters that I felt I had a sense of his mother's personal. She seems alternately staunch and frantic, a pillar of strength and a monument to indecision. It's clear that she is a unique and amazing personality, never more so than when McBride reports that all 12 of the children and their spouses and their children come back to his sister's house in New Jersey every Christmas, and shows how the wishes of the entire clan hinge on his mother's diminutive presence.
Pages 217-218: All were clamoring to go to the movies. Then she says "I want to eat."
"The movie was instantly forgotten.
'Yeah! Let's eat!'
'I sure am hungry'
'Let's order out!'
From another room: 'I been waiting to eat all day...!'
Now that's what you call power."