One of the classics in Chicano literature, Bless me, Ultima is a poignant novel about a boy who, on the threshold of manhood, seeks himself through his own roots, pushing the confines of his upbringing, opening his mind to the magic and changes in the world and the exploration of other beliefs. Through it all, there is Ultima, who is his guide to wisdom.
There's something sultry in the pull of magic realism. Not only that, the colorful textures of Chicano and Latin America literature, such as this, bring about a cauldron of tastes and tempestuousness in the air.
The book reminisces of the old vaqueros of what is now New Mexico, the little towns and family ranches, the infiltrating pagan faith that still exists and always, the feel of the beating sun and the mystery of spirits in nature.
Such are mostly the symbolism pervading Chicano novels that the touch of supernatural seemed quite only natural (albeit largely it is cultural). These elements never fail to draw me in and with bated breath has me savoring its familiarity to my own culture.
Rudolfo Anaya, considered as the founder of modern Chicano literature, writes piercingly, nudging emotions with its atmospheric feel and wistful tones. The hero spends half the time musing that I cannot help but present the same questions he has within myself. As old as I am, I find it enlightening and nostalgic; in that there's still a lot to be gleaned from a coming-of-age novel.
Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima enters his life. She is a curandera, one of 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.
Title: Bless Me, Ultima
Author: Rudolfo Anaya
Genre: Classics, Magic Realism, Coming of Age
Published: 1999 (first published 1972)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Rating: ♨♨♨♨ ( 4 cups - A book of contrasts; nurturing the soul as well as displaying the realities of the world.)