When Bless Me, Ultima was first published in 1972, it barely received a blip on the radar screen of literary criticism, despite the fact that it won the Premio Quinto Sol for its literary merit. This critical oversight was most likely due to the fact that the book was published by a small publishing house and was written in a genre that had yet to be accepted by mainstream critics—that of the Chicano coming-of-age novel.
However, by the late 1970s, the novel had been noticed by a few critics. In 1976, Francisco Lomeli and Donaldo Urioste called Bless Me, Ultima “an unforgettable novel” and stated that it was “already becoming a classic for its uniqueness in story, narrative technique and structure.” Daniel Testa, in the Latin American Literary Review, criticized the novel somewhat by calling it stereotypical:
Bless Me, Ultima can be taken first of all as a good action novel, a work in which intense and dramatic happenings make up a considerable part. There are violent fights and deaths. The technique and calculated effects of certain scenes seem deliberately to have been drawn from popular literature and movies that reflect a legendary “wild” west, replete with stock situations and characters. . . . Some of the stereotyped elements used in the work are a Longhorn saloon, a poolroom, a bawdy house, a wise old Indian who lives in a cave, settlers and sheepherders, farmers and cowboys.
Testa went on to clarify that Anaya moves beyond stereotypes “by giving symbolic value to places and objects. . . . Anaya adds to the texture of his narrative by tapping other sources of folklore, legends, mythologies, and cosmologies.” Testa was complimentary about Anaya’s prose, saying that its intensity “is worthy of the dramatist or the short story writer.”
In the 1990s, when Bless Me, Ultima was first published in a mass market edition, the novel received more intensive review—and it proved that it could withstand scrutiny and time. Charles Lar- son, reviewing the book for World & I in 1994, called the novel “one of the great works of Chicano...
(The entire section is 517 words.)