Listening Today: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Ultima came to stay with us the summer I was almost seven. When she came the beauty of the llano unfolded before my eyes, and the gurgling waters of the river sang to the hum of the turning earth. The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood. – Opening page from Bless Me, Ultima

This is a slightly different sort of review.  Although I read the book years ago, I wanted to review the novel. At the same time, I’ve gotten back into calligraphy and so wanted an audio book.  There are sadly few works of Latino/a literature on but Bless Me, Ultima is one of them.  Listening to the wonderful reading by Robert Ramirez brought me a different and deeper appreciation of Rudolfo Anaya’s novel.  I would highly recommend discovering or rediscovering this text through its audio form.

Published in 1972, the Bildungsroman novel Bless Me, Ultima is a Chicano literature classic. The basic story is narrated by Antonio Márez, who is only six years old at the novel’s beginning.  He is a child torn between ways — between the Lunas –his mother’s Catholic farmer family and his father’s wild vaquero background; between Spanish, the language of home and English, the language of education; between the Catholic religion and the traditional earth religions of the curandera and his native ancestors.  Though Ultima, the curandera who comes to live with the family at the story’s beginning, Tony becomes entangled in a series of battles between good and evil, personified in the struggle between Ultima and three evil witches and their father.  He is also witness to three deaths which change him and cause him to question all he has faith in (except for Ultima) and realize he must define his own faith.

The story of Bless Me, Ultima is well known, but it takes on added dimension through Ramirez’s reading.  I normally tend to read quickly, but listening to to audiobook forced me to slow down and appreciate the quiet beauty of text and its evocative depiction of the New Mexican landscape. I listened to the book as though the adult Tony were telling me this story of his childhood.  There is reverence in Ramirez’s voice as reads Anaya’s words about the wisdom and magic of Ultima. It was like being in a dream and I was sorry when the novel ended and I had to awaken.

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