Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo Anaya

“‘A curandera cannot give away her secrets,’ she said, ‘but if a person really wants to know, then he will listen and see and be patient. Knowledge comes slowly-‘”

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Bless Me, Ultima is a magical piece of Hispanic literature–really a cornerstone in its genre. Friends and coworkers have recommended this book to me, so much so I had a borrowed copy. It lay on my desk for sometime before giving it back. Over a year later, I finally tried again. I still do not like it. 

Personally, I do not like stories centered around young children but besides that, the story was slow and at times just boring. Antonio, the main character, is six-years-old. He is guided by a curandera, one who cures with herbs and magic, named Ultima through a mythical natural world within his own. Ultima is accused of being a witch by townspeople and when Antonio’s family takes Ultima in they receive criticism. BUT in hours of desperation, Ultima is who is called upon to heal illnesses or fix what seems like unfixable problems.

Ultima herself is an interesting character, the most interesting in my option. Under her guidance, Antonio becomes torn between his growing love for the natural magic around him and his faith within the Catholic church. His mother dreams he will be a priest, but Ultima and his father encourage him to be his own man. I know, a daunting choice for a six-year-old, “you must decide your future now!” Ultima and a few schoolyard friends open Antonio’s mind to choices and experiences he would have never imagined on his own

Like Antonio, I too became obsessed with Ultima. Who was she? Was she a healer or something more? She had telltale signs she was a bruja (witch), but the final decision is left to the reader. Between magic, profanity, violence, and some sexual content you might not find this book in the classroom. Actually, this title might be on your school’s banned book list. BUT I can assure you a reader would hear nothing worse walking down a hallway of their local high school than they would reading this novel.

Bless Me, Ultima is a vital part of Hispanic literature and has won many awards. Do not get me wrong, it is an important piece of literature and I am glad I finally got around to reading, but I think it is time to move on to newer stories that are more relatable. 

Would I recommend it? No, unless you are studying this genre or enjoy magical realism then you should give Bless Me, Ultima a read. If you are interested in this type of literature you should give it a read, but I personally like A celebration of grandfathers more than Bless Me, Ultima.

After reading I found out there was a movie released in 2013 directed by Carl Franklin, I was able to watch it on Amazon. It followed the story pretty well and I liked it more than the book.

Have you read Bless Me, Ultima or seen the movie? Tell me your thoughts below.

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