Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Bless Me Ultima

Rating: 3/5

What It’s About:

Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima enters his life. She is a curandera, one who heals with herbs and magic. ‘We cannot let her live her last days in loneliness,’ says Antonio’s mother. ‘It is not the way of our people,’ agrees his father. And so Ultima comes to live with Antonio’s family in New Mexico. Soon Tony will journey to the threshold of manhood. Always, Ultima watches over him. She graces him with the courage to face childhood bigotry, diabolical possession, the moral collapse of his brother, and too many violent deaths.

Under her wise guidance, Tony will probe the family ties that bind him, and he will find in himself the magical secrets of the pagan past—a mythic legacy equally as palpable as the Catholicism of Latin America in which he has been schooled. At each turn in his life there is Ultima who will nurture the birth of his soul

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What I Liked

Bless Me, Ultima was a hard book for me to rate. It was a required reading back when I was in high school and honestly, I don’t remember much about it. I bought it last year on a whim and was curious to see what kind of experience I would have reading it as an adult.

One of my favorite things about this book was the blend of Mexican culture, religion, magic, and folklore that was woven throughout the story. I am slowly learning and reading more from the Chicano authors that established the Mexican American voice in the literary realm. It was exciting for me to see my culture and heritage portrayed in a book that is nationally considered to be a Great American Read by PBS.

It took me some time to get used to Rudolfo Anaya’s nuanced writing style. I am very much a mood reader and I was not ready for this book when I tried to read it a few months ago. The pacing is slow, which for the most part I enjoyed. I frequently got a dreamy, almost mystical feeling while reading. The way that Anaya described the American Southwest landscape and way of life was a great experience. There are several more fast paced scenes that added some variety to the story. This book deals with many big ideas that most readers can relate to. Such as:

  • religious beliefs (Christianity, Catholicism, paganism)
  • superstition and folktales
  • coming of age and forging your own path
  • familial bonds, expectations, and conflict

What I Didn’t Like

The main thing that bothered me about this book was reading it from the point of view from a 7 year old child. Many of the thoughts and conversations that Tony had did not fit with the age that he was supposed to be. There were many scenes that occurred with his school friends and they children were portrayed as how one would expect elementary age children to behave. When the story would switch to Tony dealing with incredibly philosophical topics, it always felt like a monkey wrench was thrown into the story. I would have loved to read this story from the point of view of his older brother, Antonio, or Ultima.

The other thing that I really struggled with was the plot development of the story. Once I started to get to the last quarter of the book, I frequently questioned what the whole point of the book really was. Many reviews and descriptions of the story list it as a coming of age, (which I also mentioned earlier) but I felt like Tony was still too young by the end of the book to really be coming of age into adulthood. I skimmed more and more towards the end because my motivation to finish was waning. The ending was lackluster and I didn’t get the feeling of satisfaction when finishing a good story.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I loved starting my journey of reading classic Chicano literature. I couldn’t get enough of the landscape descriptions of the llanos of New Mexico. They were beautiful. There are some aspects of the story that readers may not like such as violence, drinking, curse words, occult/witchcraft. I’m struggling to figure out which audience to recommend this book to. Many people absolutely love Bless Me, Ultima and others not so much. I will say that I have bought another of Rudolfo Anaya’s books, Serafina’s Stories, and look forward to reading it in the future. I enjoyed his writing style and want to try reading some his other stories.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you thought.

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