Title: Bless Me, Ultima
Author: Rudolfo Anaya
# of Pages: 290
Genre: Modern Classic (Coming-of-Age)
I feel like this has been the year of no more procastination when it comes to reading–I’ve owned most of the books I’ve read so far this year for a long time, but I just kept putting them off and putting them off because other titles seemed more immediately tantalizing. Granted, it’s probably because most of them are classics, and for the most part, those are generally the hardest to get into (and the hardest to make it through).
They’re also usually the most worthwhile.
Bless Me, Ultima is a modern classic about Antonio Marez, who is just six years old when a woman of healing herbs and earth magic–the curandera, Ultima–comes to live with his family. Under Ultima’s gentle hand, Antonio begins to experience the joys and pains of growing up and trying to find his place in the world. Antonio has long been divided between two fates–his mother wants him to follow her side, the Lunas, and become a priest, or a farmer. His father, a vaquero (cowboy), wants his son to become a man of the desert and raise cattle. After experiencing death, sorrow, spiritual enlightenment (and unenlightenment), Antonio ultimately learns that he is the master of his own fate, and it doesn’t always mean doing what others expect of you.
For starters, I loved the rich language of this book–I usually prefer reading authors who speak another language in addition to English because their prose tends to be much more poetic and metaphorical. Bless Me, Ultima is beautifully written, full of sumptuous details and vivid dreams, and the familiar thread of a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) definitely hit home for me–I found myself thinking of my own growing experiences as I read and worked through Antonio’s.
However, this book is not for the faint of heart–Antonio sees many images–real and dreamed–that are disturbing on multiple levels. Much of the subject matter is depressing, and I spent half the book feeling sorry for the kid. But what makes this such a classic is that all readers can relate to the often difficult experience of encountering “adult” experiences for the first time and finding their niche in the world. And, through it all, Ultima’s wise voice rises above all the tragedy to speak pearls of wisdom that are pertinent to all ages.
My Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)