Monday, December 28, 2009

Review: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Winner of the 1973 Premio Quinto Sol national Chicano literary award, this coming of age story is told from the point of view of little Antonio Marez. He is the last of his parents' children and they are each determined that he will grow up to take after their side of the family. His father wants him to be a vaquero on the llano as he was and his mother, of farming stock, wants him to become a priest and scholar. And he himself has no idea which way his life will hew, observing everything as he does and asking difficult questions. In her old age, Ultima, a curandera or healer, moves in with his family and becomes a sort of touchstone for him in his philosophical wonderings, not least because little Antonio witnesses great evil that even the local priest seems unable to contain whereas Ultima, called a witch by so many, vanquishes it. As he grows, he reveres Ultima even as she throws some of the things he once thought were fact into question.

Anaya has captured the nature of men and their beliefs in this simple tale juxtaposing evil and good, right and wrong, Catholicism and paganism, child and man. While the novel is very pensive, Antonio as a character is far too old for his years, even if he is a child of the 1940's. His introspection and maturity are simply not that of a 7 or 8 year old child. A novel of ideas more than a novel of action, the plot bumps along slowly from one senseless, violent death to another and interspersed with long periods of tedium. This novel does give a voice to the Chicano population in northern New Mexico and showcases early magical realism and it has some sociological significance as a result. Overall the book was a slow, sometimes mesmerizing read but isn't one that I'd suggest to most readers, knowing they'd be bogged down with the pace.


  1. This looks really intriguing, though bleak. I'm not sure whether this is something I'd want to read. I did enjoy your eloquent, thoughtful review.


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