I had to read it. It’s about my home, now, about Santa Rosa. And it IS Santa Rosa. Las brujas. The owl. The bridge at Puerto de Luna, the lakes, and the wild men of the llano. It is all so real and there is a reason it is becoming a modern day classic.
I realize that Rudolfo Anaya is a spiritualist. I am not one to make every book into a moralism, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend Ultima if one can’t handle the gruesomeness of sinful humanity. Yet isn’t it the battle of good and evil that makes literature great? And isn’t that the very battle that makes me lift my eyes to heaven?
Antonio is a boy from two worlds, the mother’s farming heritage and the father’s wild cowboy blood, yearning for the freedom of the llanos. He is searching for his identity and he believes his knowledge of God will give him that identity. Yet the knowledge of God as it is taught doesn’t answer his questions, and the atrocities of life loom ever larger.
Already we see the classic dilemma of life. We all are looking for identities, torn between family and cultural ideals, and we all are surprised when life doesn’t turn out as we wish. It is Antonio’s perception of God that struck me the most, however. He is torn. On the one hand he knows the God of the church, who has the power to condemn to heaven and hell, the power to judge and to create. In his experience this God is uncaring or powerless over evil, uninvolved in the trauma he experiences. On the other he sees the golden carp, a god of peace drawing all to the happiness of the water.
And to intervene, to receive Antonio when he is in need of safety and comfort, to gain the victory over evil, there is Ultima. Yet Ultima consistently acknowledges that to battle evil, someone must be willing to receive consequences. The good she does comes at a price, always a price.
I wonder sometimes if that which God revealed of Himself in the Old Testament is a bit like Antonio’s perception of God. So unfathomable to the human mind, so impersonal as a judge of sinners that He is hard to accept as real. How often am I tempted to question God just as Antonio did? And the carp. Ah, the golden dreams of peace and prosperity offered by the world around me. It all seems so easy.
But Ultima. In every story of good and evil there is a champion. Here, the champion is Ultima. In the Bible the champion is Jesus. Not only did Jesus work the cures, not only is He the go to when the spirits have defeated humankind, He suffered the consequences on his own head. Like Ultima, He could say, “I accept my death because I accepted to work for life.” (I Peter 1:21-25).
I rarely cry over sad books or movies and I wasn’t emotionally “into” Ultima, but I cried at the end of the book. I don’t like it when suffering has to precede salvation. I don’t like to think of Jesus paying the price, and I don’t like watching people suffer here, now, as they try, like Antonio, to save their identities, their lives, or their very souls. I cried because the truth of great literature is the truth of the Bible. Evil brings suffering. And it is through suffering that we see our Savior.