Content warning: verbal abuse, diagnosis of chronic illness, violence, rape
We all struggle with uncovering who we want to be and if we aren’t careful end up being guided on this journey strictly by what motivates us–even if the motivation comes from a bad place. In Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming the titular character Olga Acevedo and her brother Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo contend with the reality of who they have become in 2017 against who they want to be.
It’s 2017 in New York City and life is what it is. For the Acevedo siblings of Brooklyn this means Prieto roams around the city on official politician business that he feels shows how connected he is to the people he represents while also maintaining his status as a middle of the road representative. As long as his pre-teen daughter has no complaints and his constituents aren’t up in arms, Prieto Acevedo is sure he’s doing an all around good job at being exactly who he needs to be—mostly. Olga, on the other hand, cannot let who she needs to be occupy too much of her mind. Her wealthy wedding clientele ensure that as long as she continues to be a highly sought after wedding planner that can cater to their greatest wedding whims, she’ll never be in need. While their lives bear all the hallmarks of successful adulthood, there is a voice that regularly reminds them of how disappointing they truly are: their erstwhile revolutionary mother. Having left them to be raised by the rest of their family in adolescence, their mother has nevertheless made her thoughts on their choices well known in her sole form of communication to the pair since her exile, via letters. Each letter reprimands Prieto as a sellout who is a disappointment to the very people he aims to represent every day that he fails to disavow working with rich donors and advocate for the most progressive of policies. They say much the same about Olga’s clientele and question how much she’s truly inherited from her parent’s revolutionary bent.
On the face, neither sibling seems to have internalized these attacks on their personhood. But that could very well be because of the personal secrets they each have worked hard to obscure from public view. Prieto’s secret—though not so secret within the family—surfaces in the most traumatic of ways and how he deals with it becomes aligned with the pressures he’s faced professionally. Olga’s secret is in no danger of becoming revealed despite the number of TV appearances she makes or how long she is in the public eye. But as soon as she gets into one of the deepest romantic relationships of her life, she begins to question her choices and whether her mother’s critiques were right all along. When Hurricane Maria hits and their mother reveals her location and occupation in Puerto Rico, both siblings are tested as they figure out what they will do to resolve all of their decisions, personal and political, which are intertwined as much as they are for everyone else.
Olga Dies Dreaming is a story about adulthood and all the choices we make along the way of defining what we want our lives to be. What name are we expected to live up to? Which needs do we prioritize? What does it all mean when you’re not sure what the ‘right’ choice is?