It is possible that Rudolfo Anaya is one of the most important Mexican-American authors writing today. His debut novel, 1972’s Bless Me, Ultima is to this day included on many middle school, high school and university reading lists across America. It is also one of the most challenged books in America and it is a classic. The magical, mystical coming of age of Antonio Márez y Luna.
This same magic and mysticism permeates Anaya’s latest novel, The Sorrows of Young Alfonso (University of Oklahoma Press) as we follow Alfonso through his own coming of age and caught up in the influences of his mother, Rafaelita, a staunch Catholic and Agapita, a faith healer.
“The world is full of sorrow.”
That’s what Agapita told Alfonso.
That’s how it begins. Alfonso’s story.
And it is sorrow we explore. And joy. As we learn about Alfonso and his journey and share in his exploration of the mysteries and truths of the human condition.
Do dreams come from heaven? If they do, why do monsters, demons, and the most murderous events occur in dreams? Surely God doesn’t send frightful nightmares to disturb our nights. Is the primitive part of our brain always at work? Are dreams the soul’s language? If so, what do they tell us? It gets complicated.
The Sorrows of Young Alfonso demonstrates why Anaya is widely considered to be one of the senior Chicano writers in America. Does Alfonso’s life seem to mirror the history of New Mexico, the state in which the story takes place? At the same time it shows us the beginnings of the Chicano Movement of which young Alfonso is a key part. So many layers, so many angles. It’s a stunning book, worthy of this master of American literature. ◊