Two siblings vie for the American dream until Hurricane Maria drags their estranged mother back into their lives.
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While our inner selves are always changing, it’s often hard to separate our identities from the places that shaped us. Olga Dies Dreaming is a rich exploration of that eternal theme, carefully illuminating the complexities of a seemingly familiar topic.
In a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn, siblings Olga and Pedro (aka Prieto) walk a delicate balance between remembering their roots and surviving within the worlds of wealthy socialites and problematic politicians. Prieto works as a congressman while Olga choreographs weddings for the wealthy with finesse. But they didn’t reach these goals easily. The two grew up largely fending for themselves, while their father struggled with addiction, eventually passing away. Their mother left them behind for her own political goals, sending letters now and then from undisclosed locations. Her quest to bring more power to Puerto Rico through radical means is at the forefront of her mind, always — even as Olga and Prieto lead their lives in ways they hope their mother will praise. Their grandmother’s house in Sunset Park is their anchor, with family rotating in and out.
But when Hurricane Maria hits, the fragile facade of their family dynamics start to unravel. The siblings must find their own footing — and accept the truth about their mother. The novel investigates what happens when you slowly realize the person you most yearn for is actually the one hurting you.
Olga Dies Dreaming intricately presents its flawed characters working through the meaning of cultural identity, family secrets, grief, and self-preservation. Their stories capture the ways in which we sometimes define ourselves by how others see us — to often painful ends.
It's 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, are boldfaced 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 power brokers.
Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1 percent 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.
Olga and Prieto’s 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, Xochitl Gonzalez’s 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.