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Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
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Bless Me, Ultima (original 1972; edition 1999)

by Rudolfo Anaya

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Title:Bless Me, Ultima
Authors:Rudolfo Anaya
Info:Grand Central Publishing (1999), Paperback, 304 pages
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Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (1972)

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Bless Me, Ultima takes place in a small town in New Mexico during World War II. Young Antonio is the son of a Marez, a wanderer of the plains who has the restlessness of the sea in his blood, and a Luna, a woman of the pastures and farms who wants stability for her family. As Antonio grows, he must decide how to reconcile the two opposing forces that flow in his blood. In addition, his mother wants him to become a Catholic priest, but when God cannot provide satisfactory answers to some of the tough questions he is asking, Antonio starts to look for answers elsewhere to justify the balance of good and evil in the world. Throughout the several years of his childhood that are covered in the novel, Antonio remains close to Ultima, the old curandera who lives with his family. She has mystical healing powers that she only uses to eradicate evil and promote good, but nonetheless, she is rumored to be a witch by some of the townspeople. Antonio learns much from her about the nature of the world, mystical spirituality, and the dichotomy of good and evil.

I really liked this novel. Because Antonio was so young, there was an innocence about him that was very appealing. At the same time, he was willing to lose his innocence in order to learn more about the world and grow into a man. Instead of letting his beliefs be completely shaped by other people, he questioned things and altered his beliefs when they conflicted with what he knew to be morally right or wrong. Magical realism was an important part of the book, but it wasn't overwhelming because the book was more about asking questions than finding absolute answers. I think this constant questioning of the world around us and the parts of it that we don't understand lends itself well to elements of magical realism. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
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. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jan 15, 2016 |
3.5***

Opening Lines: Ultima came to stay with us the summer I was almost seven. When she came the beauty of the llano unfolded before my eyes, and the gurgling waters of the river sang to the hum of the turning earth. The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood. She took my hand, and the silent, magic powers she possessed made beauty from the raw, sun-baked llano, the green river valley, and the blue bowl which was the white sun’s home.

Antonio Marez (Tony) narrates this coming-of-age story as he recounts the several years that Ultima lived with his family in the mid 1940s. She was elderly and her small New Mexico village virtually deserted when Tony’s parents decided to bring Ultima to live with them. She had been a great friend to his mother’s and father’s families; a curandera, she had healed the sick and prayed with them to ward off evil. Her knowledge of plants and herbs is frequently sought out, but also results in some residents calling her “una bruja” (a witch). With her calm demeanor she helps Tony make sense of the world and the evil in it. She helps him to find his own inner strength and to recognize the power of goodness, love and forgiveness.

This is a magical, mystical story that reminds me of the oral story-telling traditions of my grandparents. It is a spiritual journey as much as a journey from babyhood to childhood. Antonio relates many of his vivid dreams – some quite disturbing – which Ultima helps him to interpret. He tries to puzzle out the realities and meanings in the teachings of the Catholic Church as he prepares for his first confession and first communion. He embraces education and learning, although other students make fun of him, and develops a good relationship with his first teacher. He begins to recognize the differences between his parents’ wishes for his future; his father is a man of the plains, a vaquero, and wants this free life for his son, while his mother hopes Antonio will be a priest. He loves and learns from his uncles on both sides of the family – ranchers and farmers. He witnesses some violent and disturbing scenes, but also marvels at the inner strength of his father, mother and Ultima, and learns about loyalty and friendship.

Over the course of the novel (about two years) Tony and his friends also figure out some lessons for themselves. At one point he and his friend Cico have to run from a group of bullies. He asks Cico why the gang attacked them. “I don’t know,” Cico answered, “except that people, grown-ups and kids, seem to want to hurt each other – and it’s worse when they’re in a group.”

I really liked the way in which the adults in the novel tried to explain the world to the child in ways he could understand, and in ways which helped him feel more secure and less troubled. Towards the end, Antonio realizes Ultima’s great lesson: “That the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart.”

In Anaya’s writing the landscape becomes as important as any character. In fact, it is alive with movement, promise, danger, strength, and forgiveness. It can shelter you or injure you. It can nourish you or kill you.

The novel includes quite a lot of Spanish language words, phrases and even sentences. Non-Spanish speakers may feel a little lost, though I believe context and later paragraphs serve to everything pretty clearly. (Curse words are NOT translated, however.)


( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Read my senior year; I loved it! I really only remember the richness of the language, how it sounded on my silent tongue, and loving some abuela (was it Ultima? I don't remember). I remember relating to the protagonist's thoughts about church...and something about carp being bad luck to catch (forbidden?) A conversation about fishing and carp today reminded me of this book, and I think I'd like to read it again. ( )
  engpunk77 | Aug 14, 2015 |
RGG: A mystical story of 1940's chicano New Mexico; young boy as protagonist; heavy emphasis on Catholicism and questioning of belief.
  rgruberhighschool | Apr 5, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rudolfo Anayaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ramirez, RobertNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Con Honor Para Mis Padres
First words
Ultima came to stay with us the summer I was almost seven.
Quotations
And that is what Ultima tried to teach me, that the tragic consequences of life can be overcome by the magical strength that resides in the human heart.
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Book description
Bless Me, Ultima is about a young boy named Antonio who lives in Guadalupe with his family and an old curandera, Ultima. Antonio was born into a Catholic family. As Antonio grows every day, he learns the ways of good and evil, confussion with religion, the differnce between the Marez side of the family and the Lunas side, and the ways of the river and the earth. Antonio strugles with many friends dieing because of an evil man named Tenorio. Tenorio owns three daughters who are witches. The man seeks revenge for the death of two of his daughters torwards Ultima and Antonio. He calls Ultima the brueja, or witch. This leads to Antonio's confussion with God. "Why hasn't God prevented my friends from dieing? Why did Tenorio det away with killing them? Why are you letting evil get away with out being punished? I have so many questions to ask You, but none are getting answers. Is God still alive, did he even exist?" Antonio wonders.
Cico, one of Antonios friends took him to see the golden carp pass in the river. Cico does not believe in God, but the golden carp as his god. He thinks our God is a jealous god because he does not want us to believe in any other God. Antonio wondered if the golden carp was a god of beauty.
His fathers side, Marez, is all about adventure, the wind, and the llano. The mothers side, Lunas is all about religion, the earth and staying put in one place. Antonio's mom wants him to becone a farmer or a priest, a man of learning. She brings this on Antonio alot. There always seems to be competition between the mom and dad because they are totally two different people. Antonio has a hard time deciding who he wants to be, a Marez or Luna. He finally realizes that he can be both though and learns his destiny that way. As he gets to now Ultima better he learns more of how his future will be.
Antonio goes on a journey with Ultima to help cure his uncle from the curse that one of Tenorio's daughter layed upon him. Antonio had a connection with his uncle and felt everything he felt. He learned the power that Ultima has from the curing of her herbs she uses for medicine. At the end of the story he figures out the connection with Ultima and her owl. The owl is her soul/spirit.
I would recommend this book it makes you think alot and is in depth with many things. The book has many events through each chapter that makes one want to keep reading to find out what happens next!

FROM BACK COVER:

Rudolfo A. Anaya is the winner of the $1,000 Second Annual PREMIO QUINTO SOL national Chicano literary award. Mr. Anaya was born in New Mexico. He attended public schools in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and was graduated from the University of New Mexico . .

writing his novel, Mr. Anaya has said: "I have been writing for the past ten years. I have written volumes of poems, stories, novels, burned some, saved a few. Out of a suitcase full I have, it seemed that ULTIMA distilled into something worthwhile. Writing is not easy . It is a lonely, and oftentimes unappreciated endeavor. But I had to keep creating, I had to keep trying to organize all the beautiful, chaotic things into some pattern. Writing is never quite learned. I have to rewrite and rewrite each manuscript before I'm satisfied. By the way, my writing is completely self-taught. I have never taken a writing course. It's easy . You just have to sit down and write, write, write, and write . . . hasta que te lleva la madre, y las almorranas."

The illustrations for BLESS ME, ULTIMA are by Dennis Martinez, also a native New Mexican, now residing in Los Angeles, California. He teaches art in the Los Angeles Public Schools.

Cover design : Octavia I. Romano-V.
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Six-year-old Antonio embarks upon a spiritual journey under the watchful guidance of Ultima, a healing woman, that leads him to question his faith and beliefs in family, religion, and other aspects of his Chicano culture.

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