A lifetime ago I had the pleasure of taking two semesters of creative writing at the University of New Mexico. At the time, I had never heard of Rudolfo Anaya, and didn't realize that my professor was such an accomplished artist. I absolutely loved his classes, and yet, even after I learned he had written several books, never got around to reading one of them.
Now, almost 30 years later, I decided to rectify that oversight, and picked up his first book, "Bless Me, Ultima". I really didn't know what to expect. I primarily read heroic fantasy, with the occasional mystery novel thrown in for variety.
At its most simplistic level, "Bless Me, Ultima" is a coming of age story. It's told from the first person PoV by a boy, Tony, who is caught between worlds. His mother is from a family of farmers, men who know the earth, nurture it and reap the life that springs from it. They are people who stay in one place. Tony's father is from a long line of cowboys. He loves the open plains, and misses the freedom of riding wherever the wind takes him. He's passionate and restless.
These different outlooks on life pull at young Tony as he attempts to reconcile who he is with want his parents want him to be. Then there is Ultima.
Ultima is an old woman who comes to live with them. But she is so much more. Tony forms a bond with her and begins a spiritual journey, learning about the mystical side of the world. It allows him to see wonders that would be denied him if he stayed strictly true to his Catholic upbringing. It provides him succor when his traditional faith fails him or cannot provide the answers he needs.
It's a beautifully written story, and my poor attempts at a review do not do it justice. If you're intrigued by Mexican, New Mexican and Native American culture, this book will speak to you. If you like fantasy, this book can satisfy that itch as well. This is not "heroic fantasy" in the traditional sense, but there is certainly heroism to be found, and perhaps it is even more significant since the courage needed is on such a personal level.
I know that I will never look at owls the same again. Or carp - golden or not.