Bless Me, Ultima

Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me Ultima. Read by Robert Ramirez. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2004.
Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me, Ultima. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1999.

Reason read: New Mexico became a state in January. I read this as an e-book and listened to it on audio at the same time.

This is the story of Antonio Juan Marez y Luna and his relationship with a shaman/witch called Ultima. It is also the story of the young boy’s call to religion. Ultima’s role in the story is to open Antonio’s eyes to the world around him. While she is a physical presence in his life, she also comes to him in dreams. When we first meet “Tony” he has just starting school and learning to read, but already his young life has been filled with hard knocks life-knowledge. His brothers are away fighting in World War II. Closer to home, he has witnessed the retaliation murder of a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and he has seen Ultima’s magic first hand. The real coming-of-age comes when the priesthood starts calling to Tony in the third grade. It was at this time that a dying man asks Tony to hear his confession. Tony’s brothers come home, shell-shocked and weary. Heavy stuff for a kid!
There is a lot of imagery, myth and magic throughout Bless Me, Ultima. Ultima’s spirit animal is the owl and Tony can hear it in times of danger. It even comes to him in dreams to warn him of the future. When citizens of the community accuse Ultima of being evil (because she has healed people in inexplicable ways) it is the owl that diffuses the situation.
When I first started reading Bless Me, Ultima I thought this would be a book for kids or young adults, but the inclusion of violence and prostitution has since made me think otherwise.

Line I liked: “The man they hunted had slipped away from human understanding” (p 23).

Author fact: Anaya says in his introduction that parts of Bless Me, Ultima are autobiographical. It was his first novel so that’s pretty typical, I would think.

Book trivia: Bless Me, Ultima is the first book in a trilogy and, because of the language and sexual situations, is on the list for the most challenged books in the United States. Go figure.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter simply called “New Mexico” (p 167).



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