This book is, indeed, a tribute to the author’s mother. In it, the author, a man whose mother was white and his father black, tells two stories: that of his mother and his own. Tautly written in spare, clear prose, it is a wonderful story of a bi-racial family who succeeded and achieved the American dream, despite the societal obstacles placed in its way.
The author’s mother was a Polish Orthodox Jew who migrated to America at the age of two with her family during the early nineteen twenties. They ultimately settled down in Virginia, where she led an isolated and lonely life; shunned by whites because she was Jewish and shunned by blacks because she was white. She was raised in a predominantly black neighborhood, where her father, a despicable and harsh man who brutalized his handicapped wife, ran a local grocery store, where he priced gouged his black clientele.
She left home and moved to New York when she was nineteen and never looked back. She met and married the author’s father, a black man, when mixed race marriages were still frowned upon by both whites and blacks. Still, she always felt more comfortable around blacks than around whites. When he died sixteen years later, she married another black man who nurtured her eight children by the author’s father and proceeded to give her four more children.
The author tells of his childhood, of his family, and of the issue of race that ultimately colored his life while growing up in predominantly black neighborhoods, where his mother stood out like a sore thumb because of the color of her skin. It was always an issue his mother avoided discussing with him, as for her it was not an issue. It was not until the author wrote this book that his mother discussed the issue of race within the context of her own life. From this dialogue emerges a fascinating look at the issues of race, as well as religion, and how it impacts on an individual’s identity within our race conscious society.
It is also a very personal story. While the author’s family was economically disadvantaged, his eccentric and independent mother always stressed education. She was a strict disciplinarian who brooked no nonsense from her twelve children. A convert to Christianity through her first husband, with whom she founded a Baptist church, she provided her children with the will to succeed. Consequently, all twelve eventually went to college and did her proud. The story of this unique family is told from two distinct, parallel perspectives: that of the author and that of his mother. While both are interesting, it is his mother’s story that dominates this beautifully written book, which is, indeed, a tribute to her. It is truly a story told from the heart, as the love that the author has for his mother is evident with every written word.