Bless Me, Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya
Originally published 1972
Barnes and Noble
Oh dear. This one was a struggle for me. I really wanted to like Bless Me, Ultima. It's considered a classic in Latino Lit but I just couldn't connect with it.
Bless Me, Ultima follows the story of the young boy Antonio Marez. He lives in New Mexico and his life, his community, his culture is steeped in Roman Catholicism and the Pagan beliefs of the Llano (pronounced Ya-nu). The Marez family has just taken in the Curandera (healer) Ultima. Ultima is getting old and they wanted to pay her back for her years of service by taking care of her in her later years. Antonio learns a lot from Ultima and spends most of the book doing a lot of growing up. He struggles with becoming a man, sinning, the conflict between the Llano's pagan traditions and beliefs and the strict rules of the Roman Catholic church and all the death and grief he sees happening around him.
This is a coming-of-age book and to be honest I read too many of those for work as it is. I have a serious case of coming-of-age story fatigue. This book is great when placed with the right person. I'm just not that person. My biggest problem was being able to connect with what was going on in the story. I was raised religious so I usually connect with stories about religious beliefs or said beliefs conflicting with others. Whether the beliefs conflict with society, family members, work, life, etc., I usually can find something to identify with. I even love reading or watching stories about people in more extreme situations like Quiverfull families, polygamists, fundamentalists, etc. However, I was raised Protestant and I guess I can only really understand other Protestant stories. I'd probably have a similar struggle if the religion was Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or something else.
I received a free copy of the audiobook of Bless Me, Ultima from Sync, which is a wonderful online summer program that makes teen friendly audio books available for free each week. The audiobook was produced by Recorded Books and narrated by Robert Ramirez. Ramirez did a wonderful job with the narration. His accent and his fluency in Spanish made you feel like Antonio Marez himself was narrating his story to you.
I really wanted to like Bless Me, Ultima and I haven't completely ruled it out as a wash. The story was very interesting when it wasn't being drowned with flowery language or religion. Perhaps a future and more appreciative reading might be in the cards for me.
Added Note: This book was recently adapted into a major motion picture. I'm really not sure how they did that but I am curious enough to want to watch it now that I have read the book!