by Rudolfo Anaya
When in college, for a short time I was an English tutor for two Korean high school students. They had to read this book for a class, a classic I'd never heard of before, and I became curious to read it myself.
The story is about a young boy, Antonio, growing up in New Mexico. When he's six years old an elderly woman comes to live with his family, a faith healer who uses herbs and mysticism to cure people of physical and spiritual ills. Her name is Ultima. Ultima becomes Antonio's mentor, guiding him through rough times and teaching him her personal belief system. Antonio has a lot of questions about faith, God, the meaning of life, etc.- but the things Ultima teaches him conflict with with the Catholic teachings his parents follow. Tony struggles to understand the differences and make a choice which he will put his own trust in. He also has to face constant friction between his family members, violence among his peers, and threats from people in the community who believe Ultima is a witch and wish her harm.
Bless Me, Ultima is a strong story of one boy's coming of age and search for answers. But the many interrelated characters and events become confusing and the book is full of metaphors and symbolism which felt unfamiliar to me (not their presence, just the ones that were used). Some readers are put off by the inclusion of many Spanish words and phrases, and the constant cultural references- both of Latino heritage and Catholic traditions- had few explanations and only made me feel removed from it all. I was unable to connect with the main character, or feel engaged in his search for stability and wisdom. I was surprised to find this book has been banned from some schools, apparently because of some violence and s-x - which I don't remember at all, so it must not have been that shocking- and how it deals with religion.
Rating: 2/5 ........ 262 pages, 1972
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