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Olga Dies Dreaming Hardcover – 6 May 2022
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The author cloaks her polemic in page-turning prose. This deeply satisfying and nuanced novel shines a light on political corruption and the limits of capitalism. It's also a study of the psychological fallout of poor parenting and a tender exploration of love in its many forms― Observer
There's so much to enjoy in this busy, Brooklyn-set debut centred on a pair of middle-aged Latino siblings leading double lives . . . Gonzalez couples engrossing political intrigue with engagingly flawed characters you can't help but root for -- Mail on Sunday
A powerful, intra-cultural reckoning with the very notions of sacrifice and survival ― Glamour (best books for 2022)
The extraordinary accomplishment of Olga Dies Dreaming is in how a familiar-enough tale - a woman seeking love, happiness, and fulfillment in the big city - slowly reveals itself to be something else altogether. It's a book about a New York that isn't always celebrated, the one that belongs to immigrant communities; about money, class, and political power; about one vividly-imagined family and the very idea of the American Dream ― Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
Olga Dies Dreaming is the story of an imperfect family shattered by secrets, grief, and abandonment, and of people who rise up, refusing to be broken. Smart, witty, and driven, Gonzalez's Olga hustles, stumbles, falls, and eventually finds her way. An unflinching examination of capitalism, corruption, gentrification, colonialism, and their effects on marginalized people, Olga Dies Dreaming is a poignant, scalding debut ― Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls
Wisdom, tenderness, and abundant humor . . . I will think about its richly drawn, deeply human characters for a very long time ― Cynthia d'Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest and Good Company
Gonzalez's stinging and knowledgeable commentary about the American sociopolitical order that keeps Black and brown people poor and powerless suggests that radical remedies are called for, even if she gives the personal dramas of her appealing main characters pleasingly hopeful final acts. Atmospheric, intelligent and well informed: an impressive debut― Kirkus
Irresistibly warm yet entirely uncompromising ― The Skinny
Don't underestimate this new novelist. She's jump-starting the year with a smart romantic comedy that lures us in with laughter and keeps us hooked with a fantastically engaging story ― Washington Post
Xochitl Gonzalez delivers a healthy dose of tough love with her buzzy debut ― TIME
Atmospheric ― i-D magazine (books to read in 2022)
Olga is flawed and fallible, but gains in self-knowledge and integrity as she's buffeted by hurricane-force plot developments . . . [a] rich, full-bodied saga ― Financial Times
Compelling . . . Gonzalez' debut speaks thoughtfully to the complicated and introspective diasporic experience, all while looking at how power structures can change a community, and the mixed feelings of pride and guilt that can come along with moving into a gentrified neighbourhood ― Refinery29
When you start reading Olga Dies Dreaming, you might think it is the Puerto Rican version of Crazy Rich Asians - but don't be fooled. While the expectations and manners of the rich are dissected in similar detail, class politics is front and centre . . . The writing is cinematic - a TV pilot is already being made in the US - it's packed with vivid vignettes of Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the characters have real warmth and depth. You get both romantic and family relationships, together with the politics of what it is to be Latinx in a world where rich white people have the power ― Irish News
The story's driving tension derives from questions of how to break free: from a mother's manipulations, from shame, from pride indistinguishable from fear, from the traumatic burden of abandonment, from colonial oppression, from corrosive greed ― New York Times
A beautiful force . . . Not your average story of two people looking for love. It is that, yes, but with political intrigue, social commentary, revolutionaries and mobsters, it is so much more ― Independent
Olga Dies Dreaming proves the truth of that oft-quoted aphorism, "the personal is political." Packed with richly imagined characters and vivacious prose, the novel asks how we can live meaningful lives in a world rife with inequality. ― Esquire Best Books of 2022
- Publisher : Fleet; 1st edition (6 May 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0349726671
- ISBN-13 : 978-0349726670
- Dimensions : 16.6 x 3.6 x 28.8 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 380,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top reviews from Australia
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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 Xóchitl 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.
My favourite thing in this book was the fascinating relationship between 40-something siblings Olga and Prieto, and their absent-for-27-years mother, Blanca. Imagine this: Your mother abandons you during your youth to join an underground militant cause. In the intervening years, her only communication is one-way traffic in the form of letters sent irregularly that offer advice, provide criticism and make demands. Blanca knows when and which buttons to push, and she does so irrespective of the impact to her children. It’s no wonder that Olga and Prieto are not the well-adjusted, successful adults they outwardly appear to be.
I also liked the way the author portrays all her characters – the good, the ignorant and the monstrous. The family dynamics showed strong familial bonds even in the face of great disappointment or everyday bickering.
What didn’t work for me was how the author wove Puerto Rico into the story. It’s a significant plot driver but I felt the author assumed too much knowledge. This book was a start/stop affair because I was often researching, trying to sort fact from fiction. Frustratingly, it’s not until very late in the book that the author offers a concise history of Puerto Rico. If I had this information much earlier in the book it would have made for an entirely different, and much more pleasurable, reading experience.
Do I recommend this book? It’s a cautious yes. I would advise readers to jump to the 80%-ish mark to read Blanca’s letter dated May 20, 2016 for the short history lesson before starting.
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Reviewed in the United States on 11 January 2022