Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

Xochitl Gonzalez’s exploration of identity among the Puerto Rican diaspora is irresistibly warm yet entirely uncompromising

Book Review by Anahit Behrooz | 05 Jan 2022
  • Olga Dies Dreaming
Book title: Olga Dies Dreaming
Author: Xochitl Gonzalez

“Everybody’s got a job, everybody’s got a dream,” sings Lin-Manuel Miranda in his scrappy debut musical In the Heights. About this, at least, the cult Puerto Rican-American writer and performer is correct. From undocumented Dreamers to the ever-elusive American Dream, America has always – for better or worse – defined itself through vision. It’s a declaration of optimism, perhaps, but also of fundamental dissonance: a tension between self-image and reality that unsettles everything.

The protagonists of Olga Lies Dreaming know this tension well. The children of Puerto Rican immigrants from a rapidly gentrifying area of Brooklyn, the two siblings – Olga, wedding planner to New York’s Succession-like elite and Pietro, an AOC-style Congressman – have won the dreaming lottery. Yet beneath their poster-child lives lie decades-long scars: their mother’s abandonment to fight for Puerto Rican independence, their father’s traumatising illness. Taking place in the months surrounding the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Xochitl Gonzalez’s exploration of diasporic identity is irresistibly warm yet entirely uncompromising, honing in on the weight of trying to make it in a country that has ravaged your own.

The narrative trips along with evocative rhythm, a straight-shooting prose that, just like its heroes, hides a tender heart beneath a tough, wryly reflexive exterior. And when Hurricane Maria lands Gonzalez pulls no punches, centuries of systemic neglect and oppression contained in devastated infrastructure and two siblings’ unshakeable anger. 

Silhouette of a woman's head and shoulders, with overlaid abstract illustrations. Text around image reads 'Olga Dies Dreaming, Xochitl Gonzalez'

Fleet, 6 Jan, £16.99