Book cover
Olga Dies Dreaming
Xochitl Gonzalez

What an engrossing and possessing book this is. I stayed up way too late finishing it. And still it took longer than I expected because, for someone like me who knows next-to-nothing about Puerto Rico (née Borikén), it sent me to Wikipedia a lot. But this isn’t a history lesson. It’s a powerful story of identity at the micro- and macro-level.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about literature is that it invites us to experience worlds, lives, ideas that are foreign to us. I can be a woman, a Puertorriqueña, member of a big Brooklyn family, daughter of a revolutionary, even though I am none of these things. But even so, I did not expect to identify directly with Olga in the way I did. Despite the vastly different circumstances of our lives, we both have complicated parents. And Gonzalez put to words things I’ve never really been able to articulate to myself before. She tells us Olga’s mother made her children feel “like dolls in a rich kid’s toy chest—occasionally played with, largely neglected, sometimes abused.” And how she and her brother could never show their true selves to their mother because the mother “found their inner selves insignificant.” Phew.

I bought Olga Dies Dreaming after reading Gonzalez’ very vulnerable story about her aging body. I had no idea what to expect. I just liked her essay and assumed I’d like the book too, whatever it might be about. And I did.