Published: 1994 by Grand Central
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
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“Bless Me, Ultima” is considered to be one of the most important pieces of Chicano literature. Set in the 1940s, it tells the coming of age story of a young boy named Antonio as he struggles to find his place in the world and develop his own beliefs.
As a child, Antonio feels pressure to choose between the values of his family. His father’s side of the family were ranchers, and believed in the freedom of the open plains. His mother’s side of the family were settled farmers who want him to adopt their way of life and become a priest. When an old woman named Ultima comes to live with the family, Antonio discovers that magic is real, and that he must challenge his beliefs to develop his own identity.
This is one of my favorite books that I’ve read in the past year. I read it for a class on multiculturalism in libraries, and I’m glad that I did, because I don’t think I’d have found this one on my own.
Ultima’s character is fascinating. She is a curandera, a spiritual healer who is one with nature and filled with a great sense of peace. I love the way that Anaya incorporates both folk beliefs and Catholicism to create a greater cultural synthesis. Having grown up in a very Catholic family, I can identify with Antonio’s childhood questions about his faith. I was also greatly amused by the fact that the author chose to leave the boys’ cursing untranslated in Spanish, as it gave the book a more authentic feel.
I highly recommend “Bless Me, Ultima.” It is a profound coming-of-age story that highlights the mystery present in the world, generational conflict, and the importance of finding one’s place in life. It’s one of the best books that I’ve read in a long time.