Friday, October 13, 2023

Review: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

Reading allows us to experience lives nothing like our own. Am I a high society wedding planner of Puerto Rican descent? Am I the child of a drug addicted father with AIDS and a militant activist mother who abandoned me to be raised by my grandmother when I was a young teen? Am I trying to figure out my life, my relationships, and where my heart is? OK, maybe yes to that last one but definitely no to the first two scenarios. And yet, in reading Xochitl Gonzalez's novel Olga Dies Dreaming, I can step into the shoes of a character who answers yes to all of these questions as she tries to figure out what the American Dream really means and who it applies to.

Olga is a wedding planner for the rich and famous after having been featured on a reality tv show. She is incredibly sought after and successful, even if she sometimes pads her bills or overbuys and charges her clients for these "mistakes." Her brother Prieto is a Congressman representing a gentrifying LatinX neighborhood, one that, at least initially, thinks he hung the moon and is undeniably one of them. Olga and Prieto have a close knit sibling relationship but that doesn't mean they don't have secrets from each other. And their secrets are big ones. The person who seems to know both of their secrets is their absent mother, Blanca, who sends them well-informed letters when either of them make choices that stray from the path she wants them to tread, the path that she herself has taken, backing, and, if necessary, fighting for an independent Puerto Rico. As Hurricane Maria barrels down on Puerto Rico and then in its devastating aftermath, both siblings will face reckonings.

Gonzalez has drawn complex and interesting characters in this personal and political family drama. She liberally sprinkles political and historical information throughout the novel, some of which is organic and some of which felt a little forced. She tackles immigrant life and expectations, classism and capitalism, racism, political corruption, the Puerto Rican Independence movement, family trauma, and oppression as her characters look to find themselves and face the difficult things that their pasts have contributed to even as they come to terms with their Puerto Rican heritage. The story bogs down in the middle and the pacing remains mostly slow. The ending, which is set in 2025, picks up the pace but is a bit of a neatly tied bow. It does give a sense of how Olga and Prieto have grown and come into the truth of themselves and imagines an interesting ending/beginning for Puerto Rico. I mostly enjoyed this novel but I had to refresh myself on it to write this review so there was nothing special enough to stick with me long term.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts