‘Olga Dies Dreaming’: Family drama, diaspora and politics
Xochitl Gonzalez tells the story of a status-driven wedding planner grappling with her social ambitions, absent mother, and Puerto Rican roots
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Xochitl Gonzalez was born in New York City to a second-generation Puerto Rican mother and Mexican-American father and raised by her grandparents in Southern Brooklyn. She went to public school, went to Brown and then started a business with her best friend. However, when she turned 40, “scared of not doing the thing I always wanted to do,” she blew up her whole life in New York and moved to Iowa, where she earned her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. A year later, she wrote a novel called Olga Dies Dreaming, her debut novel, named one of the Best of 2022 by The New York Times, TIME, Kirkus, The Washington Post, and NPR.
Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife, and the very notion of the American dream — all while asking what it really means to weather a storm.
It's 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro 'Prieto' Acevedo, are bold-faced names in their hometown of New York. Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn, while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan’s power brokers.
Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1% but she can’t seem to find her own... until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets.
Olga and Prieto’s mother, Blanca, a Young Lord turned radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother. Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Blanca has come barreling back into their lives.
“A major question for me embarking on this project was what happened from my parents’ generation — the boomers who became Black and Brown Power Activists — to my generation – the X’ers who were more concerned with getting into Puffy’s White Party in the Hamptons and accumulating designer goods,” she told the blog Here We Read for Fun.
As the author said, “if it was some sort of reaction to those rigid values of right and wrong or if it was a form of assimilation or just beguilement by the 'American dream.'”
Gentrification, a problem that the author experienced herself personally, also plays a large role in the book.
“I needed people to see my Brooklyn, the Brooklyn that’s being taken away by gentrification,” she told Here We Read for Fun. “There’s a sense of it fading away, and I felt angry, and I wanted to preserve it with love. I wanted people to see that place that is rooted in working-class families and the rhythms of that kind of life. I wanted to pay homage to that before it changes even more."