Author: Xochitl Gonzalez
Pub. Date: Jan. 2022 (read Feb. 2022)
Olga Dies Dreaming is a new release that immediately caught my eye. Even from the synopsis, I had a bit of trouble figuring out what it was about, but it appeared to be a family drama and immigration story centered around Hurricane Maria, and I was very intrigued.
Unfortunately, after starting it the plot didn’t really become any clearer, but the writing was really sharp and smart and I was still intrigued with the characters. This is definitely a character driven novel rather than a plot driven novel, to the point that I could see some people really struggling with it, even those who love character driven stories (which I do). The synopsis made it seem to me as if the story would revolve around Hurricane Maria, but it’s more what we’re propelling towards throughout the narrative. If you think of this as a family drama centered around 2 siblings of Puerto Rican descent, who’ve been abandoned by their mother, I think it will be a bit easier to get into it.
Because at its core, this is really about a relationship between two adult siblings, Olga and Prieto, and how their lives have been influenced by their mother leaving in their adolescence. Olga is now a wedding planner who designs elaborate ceremonies and receptions for her ultra wealthy clients, sometimes blurring the line between what’s reasonable and ethical to charge for. Prieto is a congressman who’s built his career around building up their borough in Brooklyn, but who is haunted by secrets he feels he has to keep from both his constituents and his family. While they’re now both in their 40’s, the abandonment by their mother in their teens to go fight for Puerto Rican independence (and her continued influence from afar), leaves both siblings feeling inadequate.
As they navigate their careers, relationships, and choices, we are the whole while barreling towards Hurricane Maria, which decimates the island state of Puerto Rico. Highlighting the disparity between Puerto Rico and other American States and how the island has been abused by the ultra rich to further benefit themselves at the expense of poor Puerto Ricans.
Like I said, this book is smart. It’s political and I struggled to keep up sometimes with a lot of the ideology presented, but I liked that the author wasn’t afraid to just go there and trust her readers to come along for the ride. I think this is really impressive for a debut novel – the author definitely knows how to “show, don’t tell” and wasn’t intimated to explore some complex themes. In addition, Olga and Prieto made for really interesting character studies. I honestly had no idea where this book was going at any point in time and both of the characters are extremely flawed, and yet I wanted them to succeed so badly. Despite it being hard to pinpoint the plot, there was a lot going on in this book. It is a thoughtful exploration of race, class, wealth, gender, sexuality, heritage, family, love, and so much more. It’s honestly overwhelming to think of everything Gonzales includes in the story without ever making it seem overwhelming.
Really I think it’s the writing that makes this stand out. I can’t say it was the most memorable book I’ve ever read, and yet it left me with a lot to think about. I don’t think it will be for everyone because it’s not a quickly digestible read and requires some reflection, but I would definitely recommend and will be watching to see what else Gonzales releases in the future. More books like this please!