Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez: A review
Olga Dies Dreaming is the debut novel of Xochitl Gonzalez, but it doesn't really read like a debut. The writing is very assured and engaging. The plot is quite a vivid page-turner and the characters are relatable. What more could a reader ask?
The book is based on Puerto Rican culture and features a sister and brother, Olga and Prieto. We see events primarily through Olga's eyes. She is a much-in-demand wedding planner for Manhattan's elite. Her brother is a popular congressman who represents their Brooklyn neighborhood, a mainly Latin area that is quickly becoming gentrified.
Olga and Prieto were raised primarily by their grandmother because twenty-seven years earlier their mother, a Young Lord turned radical named Blanca, had abandoned her family to advance the militant political cause that she believed in. Their father, too, was mostly absent from their lives. Even though their mother left them in the care of their grandmother, however, throughout their lives she wrote them letters that helped to keep her "present" for them. Now, with Hurricane Maria bearing down on the island, their concern for their mother brings her more urgently back into their lives.
It should be noted that a good part of the plot of this book addresses the U.S. government's entirely inadequate response to that 2017 hurricane and its effects on Puerto Rico and the lives of the people there. The lack of concern of the government then in power in Washington was completely typical of that time. The plot deals, at least tangentially, with the effects of political corruption and with the ideal that is the so-called American Dream. And Puerto Rico is, of course, a part of that America.
Both Olga and Prieto have their own personal problems. Olga struggles with her love life - such as it is. She has not yet found the love of her life. And then along comes Matteo. Prieto is a closeted gay man in politics with all the stresses that that brings. I liked both of these characters quite a lot which certainly made it easier to enjoy the book. I think that Xochitl Gonzalez may have a future in writing fiction.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars