Olga Dies Dreaming

- Xochitl Gonzalez

Goodreads Book Blurb:

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 powerbrokers.

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…

Twenty-seven years ago, their 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.

Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, 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.

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My Review:

***Thanks to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.
solid, good read:
4/5
This story is rich in Puerto Rican culture and history; I learned so much without feeling like sitting in a lecture. Information weaves throughout the narrative, mainly from Olga and Prieto’s mother’s letters as she rants against the world. I knew a little about political activist groups that become violent, and this broadened my awareness, introducing a wider perspective on a lot of cultural and political ideologies and movements.

Olga is the most confusing character. She’s strong and in control at times, maintaining aloof romantic relationships that fit her needs and running an impressive business – but she’s also doing a lot of shady shit. Like, she is kind of a part of the Russian mafia and scamming her clients. And all these sides of her are presented in the same light, carrying the same amount of weight and morality. So how am I supposed to know what to think if González doesn’t tell me what I’m supposed to think?! Thankfully, Olga has Matteo in her life – without him, I’m reasonably certain she would have ended up as a full-blown member of the mafia, or in prison, or something along these lines. So Matteo becomes a sort of moral backdrop to which Olga’s actions can be contrasted and put into perspective, not only for the reader but for Olga as well.

My favourite aspect, and the most inspirational part of Olga Dies Dreaming, is the insightful discussion of activism and the role it has played throughout history as well as its importance and potential in future. It doesn’t sugarcoat how activism works, and in fact, goes into the gritty details and how far some groups will go outside of the law to achieve their goals. Instead, it portrays the roles played by many different kinds of people in social movements, leaving it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.

I appreciated the difficult differentiation between unavoidable moments disguised as choice and difficult choices disguised as unavoidable. Both Olga and Prieto face a lot of these moments, and they don’t always make the honourable, or arguably ‘right‘ choice – which makes them interesting and more realistic characters. Of course, it’s always easy to judge from the outside when others make seemingly unthinkable decisions, but Olga Dies Dreaming drives home the point repeatedly that no one ever knows the whole story.

The breadth of this novel is breathtaking. Olga Dies Dreaming touches on militant activist groups, addiction, cultural norms, AIDS, hoarding, relationships, and hurricanes (and those are just the main topics). The writing is easy to read but sophisticated; it caught me off guard at times to be reading about wedding planning and Russian mobsters in the same context, but it made the story more exciting rather than unbelievable. This is my first 2022 book, and it’s setting a high standard for any other books that will be published (technically) next year.

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