Book Review: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya


Are you familiar with Chicano literature? I have now entered that territory!


Rudolfo Anaya is an American writer. He was raised in New Mexico where he then worked as a teacher, first in a school and later in the University of New Mexico. The llano he so lovingly describes must have nursed his soul as he was growing up and also at the same time gripping the American dream of rising from poverty into something more. Cultural roots play an important part in Chicano literature and so Antonio, our protagonist, not only struggles with American expectations and influence but also with a duality of identity as a result of a land-connected-farm-born-mother and a wanderer-herder-father.

Bless Me, Ultima is a story of growing up. Waiting to enter school, conquering school, waiting to have God’s wisdom and first communion, doubting God – and all this while witnessing the fragility of life and coming face to face with death more than once. There is solace and security for all this turmoil through Ultima.

What or who is Ultima? We first meet Ultima really only as a spirit, but then soon enough as a gentle, determined and wise old single lady that comes to live with Antonio’s family.  Antonio and Ultima subsequently form a very strong bond. As a healer of mental, physical and spiritual illnesses Ultima can be connected to Rudolfo Anaya’s own interest and education in councelling (along side English literature).

Bless Me, Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima is considered a Chicano classic. It seems that even doctoral dissertations have been written about it. I can’t really match up with that at all. Even a thought arises that I have sort of missed it in some way. I do understand that this book can be highly considered. There are magical elements there that rise above regular writing. Yet the Latino world and the use of Spanish language are foreign to me. Even the catholic church is more foreign to me that I have understood before.  Chicano literature or Mexican-American literature is also a new territory for me. I am happy to have made this leap, though, which I took as a result of a blog post by one of Rudolfo Anaya’s fans.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya is certainly a book I will remember. I can see myself reading more books either by him or other Chicano writers. Indeed I must make a point of reading some fiction by Catholic writers. Now I give Bless Me, Ultima four stars out of five.

I had to push myself to finish this book. I should, however, not blame the book. Well, maybe a little. I started it well enough and got half of it done very easily. Then I read just a bit now and then. Today finally then the last two plus chapters! I am not going to explain or excuse myself  too much. Just enough to say that I have taken it easy on many fronts lately. Done some new things too. I actually read today that that is actually good for the brain.

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