Xolo Score 5/5
In gentrifying Brooklyn, Olga Dies Dreaming is a warmhearted but tough story of a sister and brother grappling with identity, family, love, and self-worth. The siblings, Olga and Prieto, both live with the looming shadow their mother, an activist for Puerto Rican independence who abandoned Olga and Prieto to pursue her goals of liberation. Olga does her best to carry on and is a wedding planner for the ultra-rich, and Prieto is a congressman. Both Olga and Prieto have their secrets, and the story follows each of them as they keep those secrets close, all while their mother begins creeping back into their lives.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
To appropriately and accurately tell the story of a Puerto Rican family living in Sunset Park, Xochitl Gonzalez bathes the novel with characters that cover the racial spectrum. Although the story centers on Olga and Prieto, who are light-skinned, both characters acknowledge their light skin privilege when obtaining specific opportunities like attending private school and their successful careers as adults among the U.S. elite class. The novel immediately rebukes the white gaze through Olga and Prieto's mother's sharp and poignant observations of white supremacy. Gonzalez also demonstrates the nuance of what it means to survive in a white supremacist society while maintaining your identity and values as a person of color and the inherent compromises.
And while you dive into each character's multiple layers of complexity, you are also given the anticolonialism and anti-U.S. imperialist history of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico's history provides the essential context in understanding the anger and frustration of Puerto Ricans both on and off the island. Both Olga and Prieto's mother raised them to know their history, and it gives them a level of self-awareness that helps them point out the hypocrisies of the elite even if they sometimes slip and fall face-first into those very hypocrisies. Such as Olga's affair with a rich white man who profits from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. The novel consistently points out that the illusion of proximity to whiteness keeps BIPOC tightening their shackles of oppression.
With the novel's climax centered on the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, the characters find themselves at a crossroads. Instead of following their manipulative mother's revolution, they choose self-preservation and achieve coveted liberation through freedom of obligation.
Olga Dies Dreaming is candela from start to finish. You'll learn about the long colonialist history that Puerto Ricans grapple with today and want to eat the rich with a side of maduros.
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How well does the author avoid writing BIPOC experiences through the white gaze?
To what extent does the author challenge white-centered beliefs?
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