Olga Dies Dreaming: A Novel

This midlife coming-of-age story (384 pages) was published in January of 2022 by Flatiron Books. The book takes you to 2017 Brooklyn and Puerto Rico. Melissa read Olga Dies Dreaming and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.


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Olga Dies Dreaming

A Novel

Xochitl Gonzalez

This midlife coming-of-age novel draws you in with a hilarious and fizzy dissertation on wedding napkins, then morphs into a moving story of siblings, family lore, ambition, and finding peace.

Set in 2018 Brooklyn and Puerto Rico, this is the story of siblings Olga and Prieto, poster children for the Immigrant Dream™. Olga is 40 years old, very single, and a wedding planner for the ultra-rich. She’s on track to be the Puerto Rican Martha Stewart. Wealthy women from New York’s Upper East Side to Palm Beach and Silicon Valley feel smug telling their friends their wedding planner is the one from TV.

Her brother is also a neighborhood boy done good: He’s a congressman for their Latinx neighborhood, ostensibly trying to smooth out the bumps of gentrification.

Both the siblings have done very well for themselves. And/but they’re both keeping secrets, and they’re both still reckoning with the past. Turns out, their mom was more devoted to political activism than motherhood. Twenty-seven years ago, she left them in the capable, loving hands of their grandmother and extended family. Mommy Dearest stays in touch via hyper-critical letters — minus return address — that keep the siblings unbalanced and insecure.

As the two navigate professional challenges, relationships, and dramatic debacles, we (and they) come to understand the family forces that have shaped their decisions and fates. Author Xochitl Gonzalez uses this personal lens to explore the immigrant experience, gentrification, and colonialism. The story also delivers a very well done and anger-inducing explainer on the challenging relationship between the US and Puerto Rico — and how that was exacerbated by the response to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The story delivers a very strong sense of Brooklyn, too. Olga goes on a flirty date in a neighborhood bar with a great jukebox so good, you’ll go looking for it in Brooklyn. Ditto the family wedding that’s the exact opposite of the kind of events Olga plans for her privileged clients.

This story hits every note of the emotional scale: surprise, joy, tenderness, anger, giddy (complicated) romance. Prepare to laugh and cry — and celebrate at the pitch-perfect ending.

As she made her way to the Atlantic Terminal, she couldn’t help but marvel at the neighborhood transformation that had happened literally under her nose, while she was flying here and there, getting home drunk, leaving for the office early. Even as a younger woman, Olga never had a desire to live in Manhattan, put off by its nonstop pace and posturing. No one could ever just ‘be’ there. It required trying, at all times, to be something else. Richer, thinner, more famous, more popular, more powerful, more in the know. For all of her ambition, at the end of the day, Olga wanted to shut it all off. Yet she’d recognized, as a practical matter, that being closer to ‘the city,’ as Brooklynites referred to it, would be an asset as she launched a business catering expressly to those trying to be more. So, she moved out of her grandma’s house on Fifty-third Street and into a floor-through of a brownstone on a tree-lined street just a stone’s throw from Fort Greene Park, one quick subway ride to Manhattan. Here, a utopia of creatives, mostly Black and Latino, all strivers by day, surrounded her, eager to let their hair down at night, to drink, laugh, and dance off the weight of a day spent trying to live up to a notion of White Success in this impossible city. — Xochitl Gonzalez

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