“Olga Dies Dreaming” The first novel by Xochitl Gonzalez is a story about family and betrayal.
In the novel Olga dies dreaming, Olga dreams of success, of being rich and happy. She’s on her way. As a wedding planner for New York’s elite, she enjoys a life full of the good things. But her joy is constantly overshadowed by the shadows of family secrets that evoke other insecurities and leave her alone for love. Her mother abandoned the family. Her beloved grandmother, the woman who raised her, dies. Her brother is a popular congressman, but her life is falling apart too. And now Hurricane Maria is about to make landfall in Puerto Rico, revealing the truth about the whereabouts of her ruthless and missing mother.
On the theme of gentrification in the novel
I kind of wanted to write in a personal way. I think sometimes we can read stories about, say, the gentrification that is happening, not just in Brooklyn. I write for Atlantic a column on Brooklyn. There’s kind of that universality of gentrification, but gentrification that really impacts a family and individuals in the way they feel emotionally about it. But then also [Olga’s] family is a different kind of … they were the next gathering of diasporic people from Puerto Rico, right? As where economic circumstances, as on many occasions, have led to waves of migration to the mainland. And then the communities kind of ended up in New York and then these same communities that kind of recreated themselves in order to preserve the culture and preserve the community now are kind of being destroyed again by this kind of hyper gentrification. which occurs and which causes displacements again.
On writing complicated characters
I think the power for me of the art of fiction is that you can humanize and get people to engage with the complicated nature of adulthood and certain circumstances and moments in life in a way that even the best non-fiction or journalism can do, but you can give the light moments that you sometimes can’t when trying to convey the intensity of something … I think my goal was to write a novel about believable and complicated characters, living life through this difficult moment on time.
On the resilience of the characters
I think we’re all so much tougher than we sometimes think. The hard things, the hardest things, we can give ourselves a moment, dust ourselves off and go on. And it’s never too late to find that space, to love yourself and feel loved … I really wanted these characters to be middle-aged. I felt it was so important to show that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been content with one way of being. There is always room to say, “It’s not enough. Sometimes we are drawn into this space by trauma, but there is always space to say, “Okay, I can do that. And I will continue.”