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Review: Olga Dies Dreaming

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

4/5 stars

TW: Mention of suicide and rape (not graphic), drug use, hurricane damage

Olga and her brother Prieto, the children of Puerto Rican immigrants, live in New York City in 2017. Prieto is a local congressman and Olga is a successful wedding planner for the Manhattan elite. From an outsiders perspective they may seem to have it all together, but both are fighting internal battles, not the least of which is that their radical, militant mother, Blanca, left them behind when they were teenagers to join the PR revolution for independence. They haven't seen her since she left, but she keeps tabs on them through a shady network of contacts, and writes them disapproving letters. How could Olga waste her time on making money off of planning rich white people's parties? How could Prieto waste his influence by not standing up for PR causes? On top of this near constant onslaught, they lost their father to AIDS because of his drug use. Olga is a serial dater but never lets anyone close enough for a real relationship. She is brilliant but snarky, and always has a get-away plan. Preito is a closeted gay man, and a consummate charmer, desperately trying to keep up appearances.

And then, Hurricane Maria barrels into PR, destroying much of the island. Blanca reinserts herself into their lives, and both Olga and Prieto must reckon with their feelings towards her, which are all wrapped up in the defense mechanisms they've developed to survive.

This novel grapples with themes like what it means to fulfill the American dream, what it means to be a mother, and most importantly, where to draw the line between personal responsibilities to family and the responsibilities to your culture and homeland, and the causes you feel passionate about. Whether you agree or disagree with Blanca's choice to abandon them, there is something to be said for either side... Sometimes it takes someone willing to sacrifice everything in order to move a revolution forward. But is it worth it when your actions cause your family members real harm? (Personally, I found Blanca's behavior throughout the book to be really disturbing, but I think that was the point.)

Gonzalez also touches on gentrification, political corruption, homophobia, racism, activism, resistance and revolution. She also writes the Puerto Rican culture - both in NYC and back in PR - in wonderfully rich and full descriptions that make it clear, if I didn't already know, that Gonzalez herself is from that world.

Apparently Hulu has picked up this book and will be adapting it into a mini-series, with Aubrey Plaza playing Olga. Should be interesting!


UP NEXT: Hestia Strikes a Match, by Christine Grillo

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