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Bless Me Ultima (thoughts) + Blogtoberfest

October 2, 2009

Have y’all heard of Blogtoberfest? You commit to writing a post a day during October, and there will be memes and giveaways and surprises and all that fun stuff! Since Oktoberfest would be wasted on me anyway (allergic to gluten, hence no beer), I think this is a marvelous substitute! So I’m signing up. :D

bannedbooksBanned Books Week is coming to a close, and I shall review my final selection, Bless Me Ultimaby Rudolfo Anaya. But first I thought I’d say a few words about BBW. For me, it’s about so much more than banned books. Even if not a single book had been challenged or banned anywhere in the world this year (which obviously isn’t true), I would still celebrate BBW. Why? Because it’s a celebration of our freedom to information, of our right to lead our own lives and make our own choices. It’s a celebration of the best that democracy has to offer. It’s a celebration of libraries and librarians, who are one of the cornerstones of that democracy. It’s a reminder not to take these freedoms for granted. It’s also a celebration of tolerance, of the rich diversity of opinions and experiences that make our world the fascinating place that it is. It’s a reminder to tone down the judgement, to approach things with an open mind. In short, BBW manages to combine the most marvelous aspects of the 21st century with reading books! Is there any wonder I want to celebrate it?

blessmeultimaAnd on that note, Bless Me Ultima was the perfect way to end the week! I knew that it was a coming-of-age story set in New Mexico during the 40s. I vaguely imagined some kind of The Outsidersonly with Hispanic teens. But I was so wrong! Antonio, the protagonist, is only 6 when the story begins (and 7 when it ends). And the book is about religion and belief; it’s Antonio’s religious coming-of-age tale. Ultima is a wisewoman, or curandera, who comes to live with his family in her old age. She has a special connection to Antonio, and she helps him make sense of the very grownup things that he’s witnessing.

I think part of why I loved this so much is that I had no idea what was going to happen, so everything was a marvelous surprise! Because of that, this review will probably end up being short, since I don’t want to ruin it for y’all (since of course you’re going to go get your hands on this as soon as you can!). But Anaya’s narrative style as a young boy is completely convincing. I remember being that age, and I too was a bit obsessed with religion (not as much as Antonio! but then I wasn’t in the same environment), and Antonio’s feelings felt spot-on to me. I also loved how assuredly Anaya introduced me to a new culture. The conflict between Antonio’s parents, whose mother has a farming background while the father’s first love is for the llano, made sense to me. The complicated rules that govern any society I was able to pick up on simply from reading. I felt as completely exposed to a new culture as I feel during the best international books. Anaya is also marvelous at sprinkling in just enough Spanish words to add that flavour without me wondering what they could mean.

The writing in the book is lush and mystical and pulls you along. Here’s one of my favourite passages:

Ash Wednesday. There is no other day like Ash Wednesday. The proud and the meek, the arrogant and the humble are all made equal on Ash Wednesday. The healthy and the sick, the assured and the sick in spirit, all make their way to church in the gray morning or in the dusty afternoon. They line up silently, eyes downcast, bony fingers counting the beads of the rosary, lips mumbling prayers. All are repentant, all are preparing themselves for the shock of the laying of the ashes on the forehead and the priest’s agonizing words, “Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”


I read this one quickly, and never stopped to count how many pages I had left (which is one of my habits as a reader). I can’t think of what else to say to convince you to go read it, but you should. And soon! That way I’ll have people to talk about the book with. :)

16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2009 9:49 am

    I, too, find the crux of Banned Books Week in a celebration of freedom of information. (I’ve been on a gluten-free diet for more than a year now, myself.)

  2. October 2, 2009 10:28 am

    I haven’t read Bless Me Ultima so I can’t comment on that part of this post, but I just wanted to say that I’m so with you when it comes to the spirit of Banned Books Week (and banned books in general, because obviously we need not limit our reading of challenged material to just one week per year!). It’s all about people being able to read what they want, without others trying to say what is appropriate or worthwhile. What one person finds objectionable another person might not, and it’s all about being at liberty to choose for ourselves. Moreover literature allows us to expand our minds and explore subjects and ideas that we may not agree with, we may come across content that disturbs and bothers us, and yet no one should deny anyone else the right to that experience should they wish to seek it out.

  3. October 2, 2009 11:26 am

    What a great endorsement! I’ve had this one on my shelves for–oh–probaby 10 years or so! Eek! That passage was captivating, so I can’t wait to read it.

    And Blogtoberfest sounds awesome!

  4. October 2, 2009 11:31 am

    I’m so loved this book and glad you enjoyed it. I grew up in the Southwest and so, of course, I had to read it. I still remember the gorgeous descriptions of nature that Anaya created. Can’t wait to read it again. My review is here if you care to read it. I’ve added a link to your review on my post.

  5. October 2, 2009 12:36 pm

    Happy Blogtoberfest! This book looks fascinating. :)

  6. October 2, 2009 1:34 pm

    I read this book years ago but I’m sorry to say it went in and then out again. I don’t remember a thing about it! Sorry I don’t have anything to add. I remember liking it but obviously it didn’t stay with me.

    I wonder if I read it in my book blogging consciousness, I would have gotten more out of it?

  7. October 3, 2009 1:27 am

    Happy Blogtoberfest! You usually have one post a day, right, so shouldn’t be much of a stretch for you.

  8. October 3, 2009 11:48 am

    The book didn’t really stick with me- I’m not sure why. When I first read it I was puzzled why it got on the banned list- but now I think maybe some private religious school objected to how Antonio was questioning his Catholic upbringing.

  9. October 3, 2009 12:41 pm

    I’m going to attempt to write a post a day, but i’m really into not-pushing-myself these days, so I’m not going to be terribly strict. however, I love reading everyone else’s daily posts!!

  10. October 3, 2009 3:48 pm

    Somehow I missed this post the other day and didn’t read your thoughts on Bless Me Ultima. I just linked over here from your wrap-up post because at this morning’s book sale, I actually picked that one up! I didn’t know anything about it before. I’m glad to hear it’s good.

  11. October 3, 2009 9:37 pm

    I’ve got Bless Me Ultima sitting on my shelf but don’t really know much about it (got it from my husband’s old roommate who probably hadn’t read it either). You’ve got me really excited to read it! (and I also count pages…probably a bad habit as I’m a slow reader).

  12. October 8, 2009 11:53 am

    I read this book back in HS but that has been a while and now I really dont remember what happened. I read it so quick due to having a test only a few weeks after it was assigned and back then I was a really slow reader, now I can read that whole book pretty quick (I think college makes you speed up your reading habbits). But now I have decided that I shall be going back to read that book.

  13. October 11, 2009 6:32 am

    Wordlily, GF-er’s unite! :)

    Steph, what a great comment! You know I agree 100%!

    Andi, I was shocked at how much I loved it. :D

    Terri, thanks for linking ot your review! I shall read it soon. :) That’s neat you had the landscapes in your head. I’ve been to Arizona (spent a week in Tuscon, and I’ve driven through large stretches of it), so I had a vague image!

    Care, it is!

    Rebecca, I definitely get more out of books now that I’m a book blogger. It makes me wish I’d been one since birth! lol

    Hazra, thanks! When I’m feeling well, I post 5-7 times a week, but when I’m in a haze, I tend to just disappear. This’ll stop me from doing it. :)

    Jeane, I bet it’s banned because of the witchcraft!

    Daphne, I think I need a little pushing to get me through fibro brain. ;)

    Amanda, awesome!

    Trish, I count pages compulsively-it’s ridiculous. I’m sure I’d read faster if I wasn’t constantly monitoring pages.

    Samantha, I don’t remember sevearl books from HS, so I sympathise!


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