About Olga Dies Dreaming
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez is a whirlwind story centered around Olga and Prieto, the adult children of Puerto Rican visionaries whose lives are largely dictated by their parents despite their parents’ absences.
After their mother leaves them in the care of family to head a revolutionary group in Puerto Rico, they don’t see her for decades, only sporadically receiving letters from her that – to me – felt like words filled with poisoned love. When their father – an addict – dies, they are left with their grandmother, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
With memories of the past mixed with confusion about the future, Olga Dies Dreaming is a character-driven novel that demonstrates the power of choice and identity. How something looks on the outside is not always indicative of what’s going on under the surface.
Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican identity are key components of the book. Says Gonzalez in this article from Refinery29, “So far I’m just eager to start a conversation within, specifically the Puerto Rican community and, in general, amongst Latinxs and Latinas, especially, and even if they don’t like it, it’s cool to hear all the different takes on it, you know?”
The article also states, “Gonzalez’ debut speaks thoughtfully to the complicated and introspective diasporic experience, all while looking at how power structures can change a community, and the mixed feelings of pride and guilt that can come along with moving into a gentrified neighborhood.”
Olga Dies Dreaming is told from the points of view of Olga, Prieto, occasional letters from their mother, and a surprising third character, Richard, aka Dick.
Olga is a successful wedding business owner; she caters to the wealthy and finds herself in social circles that allow her to advance. She is afraid of love, thanks in part to her mother’s neglect. To be truly happy, her character undergoes quite the developmental journey
Prieto is a politician, father, and queer man who is disinclined to reveal his true self for fear of becoming an outcast from his family, friends, and constituents. After some pivotal plot points that I will not reveal, he must decide once and for all what face he will present to the world.
An interesting point that Prieto makes is that he recognizes how his family never says anything negative about queer people, but they don’t exactly invite the concept either. From an early age, he was asked if he had any little girlfriends at school. How many adults ask kids that, but also say that talking to children about being something other than straight or cisgender is considered “sexualizing” your children? If we support something, we need to show it. We can’t assume other people will know what side we stand on.
Dick is the only white character whose point of view we read. For a time, he is Olga’s lover; eventually, his passion for her is eclipsed by his rage at not possessing her. To me, Dick is a symbol of a theme in the novel: that Puerto Rico is inhibited from standing on its own because the powers-that-be do not allow it to be so.
Throughout the narrative, we see a glimpse into the mind of Blanca, Olga’s and Pietro’s mother, through letters she sends them. She seems quite sneaky in her attempts to belittle them. My sympathy for her is that I feel bad that she accepted a little too late that she didn’t want to be a mother. I don’t agree with her sending her family members twisted letters, all in an effort to somehow make them act out to prove themselves to her revolutionary cause.
When hurricanes strike Puerto Rico, people are left without water, food, medicine, power. It reminded me a lot of the feelings expressed in What Storm, What Thunder in the sense that help was supposed to be on the way, but didn’t come from the sources it was supposed to. It also speaks to the resiliency people show when community members group together to help one another.
Another thing I found interesting was the idea of having a namesake. There are two individuals named Olga, for whom Olga’s mother Blanca based the name choice on. One she sees as powerful and the other as more of a sellout. Do names and intentions have the power to shape our identities?
On a personal note, there is a section of the book that hit home for me about experiencing traumatic events and seeking help, even when you don’t feel like you’re worth it. It’s something I’m going through right now and it’s encouraging to read about. Normalize therapy!
Olga Dies Dreaming is a love story – for yourself, your family, and your identity.
A pilot has been shot for Hulu. Personally I’m hoping to see a release date sooner rather than later!
Trigger/content warnings for book: neglect, drug abuse/overdose, rape/assault, natural disasters/recovery, medical issues, and pregnancy-related issues
If you’re interested in learning more about PROMESA, I am not an expect but here are some links I found. I recommend you do your own search into PROMESA.
– Department of Labor Resources for Puerto Rico and Q+A
– Here’s How PROMESA Aims to Tackle Puerto Rico’s Debt