With hundreds of thousands of copies in print, Bless Me, Ultima has been called the most widely read Mexican-American novel in the English language. Richly evocative, it has earned its place among the classics of modern literature, even drawing favorable comparisons to Herman Melville's legendary Moby Dick.
©1973, 1994 Rodolfo Anaya; (P)2004 Recorded Books LLC
"Besides winning the Premio Quinto Sol national Chicano literary award, this novel of a young boy in New Mexico in the 1940s has sold more than 300,000 copies in paperback since its 1973 debut....LJ's reviewer asserted that 'the novel has warmth and feeling'." (Library Journal)
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This is one of the books that establishes the "mystic" tradition in Latino culture - along with Castaneda's Don Juan books. I've always thought that this aspect of Mexican/Mexican American culture is overemphasized. However, this book wraps the mysticism around an entertaining plot that builds slowly to a dramatic denoument. The ending binds up all of the book's spiritual themes into an epiphany of sorts. Certainly an essential part of any anthology onthe American Southwest.
Although I read the book years ago, I wanted to review the novel. At the same time, I’ve gotten back into calligraphy and so wanted an audio book. There are sadly few works of Latino/a literature on Audible.com but Bless Me, Ultima is one of them. Listening to the wonderful reading by Robert Ramirez brought me a different and deeper appreciation of Rudolfo Anaya’s novel. I would highly recommend discovering or rediscovering this text through its audio form.
Published in 1972, the Bildungsroman novel Bless Me, Ultima is a Chicano literature classic. The basic story is narrated by Antonio Márez, who is only six years old at the novel’s beginning. He is a child torn between ways — between the Lunas –his mother’s Catholic farmer family and his father’s wild vaquero background; between Spanish, the language of home and English, the language of education; between the Catholic religion and the traditional earth religions of the curandera and his native ancestors. Though Ultima, the curandera who comes to live with the family at the story’s beginning, Tony becomes entangled in a series of battles between good and evil, personified in the struggle between Ultima and three evil witches and their father. He is also witness to three deaths which change him and cause him to question all he has faith in (except for Ultima) and realize he must define his own faith.
The story of Bless Me, Ultima is well known, but it takes on added dimension through Ramirez’s reading. I normally tend to read quickly, but listening to to audiobook forced me to slow down and appreciate the quiet beauty of text and its evocative depiction of the New Mexican landscape. I listened to the book as though the adult Tony were telling me this story of his childhood. There is reverence in Ramirez’s voice as reads Anaya’s words about the wisdom and magic of Ultima. It was like being in a dream and I was sorry when the novel ended and I had to awaken.
There are some great themes here. A boy struggles to come to terms with tradition, religion and cultural differences. However, there's no resolution to any of the important questions raised by the author. Does Antonio follow in the footsteps of the Marez or the Luna? Will he embrace Catholicism, naturalism of the magic fish, or the mysticism of Ultima? Was she a witch or not?
No, not every issue needs to be resolved. However the unending discussions of some heady issues (which frankly were somewhat shallow) with no progress towards resolution left me frustrated.
My biggest criticism concerns the writing. There's a scene where we're led to believe that Ultima is grave danger. A violent conflict is eminent but right before the crescendo the same character that heralded the imminent danger conveniently informs the reader that there is a nonviolent solution known to all, and just like that, everyone packs up and goes home. The author created a false conflict and resolved it with an all too convenient device, revealing there was no conflict to begin with.
The characters lack dimension. Bad guys are bad to their core, good guys, good. Although there's some genuine earnestness in Antonio, I just never grew attached. Ultima remains shrouded in mystery.
In it's best parts, the book reveals some of the struggles of first generation immigrants trying to come to term with tradition and new ways of life. ULTIMAtely, however, the reader is left with as many questions as they started. Resolution, just like the promised flood, never comes.
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Rudolfo Anaya's "Bless Me, Ultima" can't seem to decide if it's a childhood coming of age story, almost Shakespearian tragedy, or good vs evil morality tale.
It is a good portrayal of what it's like to grow up Chicano in the 20th Century, with parental ambitions, pressures and conflict in the local village shaping young thought. It will make you think about what is good, what is evil, and how everyone else's perceptions shape your own.
If you're looking for easy entertainment, go elsewhere. If you want to think a bit, this one could be for you.
A wonderful story about the beauty in relationships between old and young. It brought me joy and tears; I listened religiously to Robert Ramirez every night as he brought this story to life. The story has been told and I will search for another majestic book by Rodolfo Anaya!!
Performance by reader was a little comic. The story in itself is beautiful. Reminds me of the stories that old Indian Chiefs would share with the young ones. A way to teach spiritual roots, legends, a sense of respect to all, to earth, to the living, and spirits.
More character & story development. Less Spanish phrases, I don't remember that much from high school Spanish class!
No, it was painfully slow. I increased the speed to 1.5 times the norm and it was still slow at times.
The scenes with the father talking about moving to California, it just didn't flow with the rest of the story.
I first saw the movie "Bless Me, Ultima" and was quite taken by the story. I knew that as good as the movie was, the book would be better. I was not disappointed. The book took the story much deeper into the lives of the characters and reveled so much more than the movie. Read or listen to it. You'll certainly enjoy this delightful story of a young man learning about himself, family, life, religion and spirituality.
Perhaps it is because I am not of Latin or Hispanic descent, or perhaps I am the wrong age, but I had a very hard time with many aspects of this book. The tirades about religion went on too long while there was not enough character development of Ultima. She was much more interesting than Antonio but we really do not find out much about her. This surprised me since her name is in the title.
I did not enjoy the tales of teenage boys spitting and pissing and having epileptic fits and being cruel and unthinking toward each other. Perhaps I am too old to appreciate a "coming of age" book. I also thought the use of vernacular perpetuates the use of bad grammar and poor English. I do not think this sets a good example for young people.
The narrator did well and I found it to be easy listening; it was the story that I did not like.
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