Rudolfo Anaya,
Bless Me, Ultima
(TQS Publications, 1972;
Warner Bros., 1994)

Rudolfo Anaya has been hailed as one of the nation's best Chicano authors. The evidence lies in his stunning novel, Bless Me, Ultima, which details the physical and spiritual coming-of-age of 6-year-old Antonio Marez.

Life is comfortable in their small New Mexico town until Antonio's parents ask Ultima to move in with them. Ultima is alternately viewed as a curandera (one who cures with herbs and magic) by some and a bruja by others. As soon as he meets Ultima, Antonio knows his life has changed; he dreams that she was present at his physical birth and now, she tells him, she will be present at his spiritual birth.

Spirituality lies at the core of Anaya's novel. As Antonio finds himself drawn into the adult world he must soon enter, he witnesses the death of several members of the community and loses his brothers, who have recently returned from the war, to the restlessness of their father's blood. Antonio begins to question his religious beliefs as a result of these observations. Ultima wakes within him an awareness of the presence of spirits in the natural world, which war with his Latin-Catholic upbringing. The boys at school further complicate the matter by introducing Antonio to the mysteries of the Golden Carp.

This spiritual struggle is mirrored by Antonio's uncertainty over the course of his life. His mother is a Luna; the men of her family are priests and farmers, bound to the earth by the cycles of the moon. Antonio's father is a Marez -- men of the sea, they ride the plains of the llano, bound by nothing. Through Ultima's teachings, Antonio discovers the truth of his past and his future.

Anaya demonstrates a true gift for storytelling. His prose reads like exquisite poetry, richly rendered in fresh, lyrical details. A tale of magic, myth, and dream, Bless Me, Ultima is a unique vision of Chicano culture.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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