Bless Me, Ultima

Prior to this, I read 35 of the books listed on PBS’s The Great American Read (GAR) top 100 list. I had not heard of this book before watching the intro episode of GAR, and when it was mentioned, I was instantly intrigued and ran out to get a copy. It languished on my shelf for a couple of months until I went looking for something to read for the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. I discovered that not only has Bless Me, Ultima frequently been banned or challenged, a New Mexico school district actually burned copies, according to Wikipedia.

For me, this was a beautifully written coming of age story. We follow Antonio as he begins school, experiences his first communion, and struggles to figure out what path he will take in life – is he more Márez and will he take after the wandering spirit of his father’s people, or will he follow the path his mother sees for him, that of her family, the Lunas, and become a priest? He is guided by a curandera, Ultima, who comes to live with his family. She is a wise woman, a healer, and a grandmotherly figure.

There is death, loss, and sadness in this book, along with great joy and beauty. There is also a lot of foul language, but I only know that because of Google Translate as the swearing in Spanish. Bless Me, Ultima is not something that I would have picked up on my own, just reading the back blurb, but I’m so glad it was featured on GAR, because it is just simply beautiful. It provides a glimpse of a culture foreign to my own. That in itself is a gift, and one of the things I love most about books. It deserves a place on any list of classic American novels.

~ by Rachel on October 16, 2018.

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