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'Olga Dies Dreaming': Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel is a story about family and betrayal.

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Xochitl Gonzalez
Xochitl Gonzalez

‘Olga Dies Dreaming’ Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel is a story about family and betrayal.
In the novel Olga Dies Dreaming, Olga is dreaming—about being successful and rich and happy. She is on her way. As the wedding planner for the elite of New York City, she enjoys a life full of the finer things. But her joy is constantly eclipsed by the shadows of family secrets that evoke other insecurities and leave her lonely for love. Her mother abandoned the family. Her beloved grandmother, the woman who raised her, dies. Her brother is a popular congressman, but his life is breaking down, too. And now Hurricane Maria is about to make landfall in Puerto Rico, exposing the truth about her missing remorseless mother’s whereabouts.

Highlights from the interview

On the theme of gentrification in the novel 
I wanted to sort of write in a personal way. I think sometimes we can read stories about, let's say, gentrification that's happening, not just in Brooklyn. I write for The Atlantic a column about Brooklyn. There's sort of this universality of gentrification, but gentrification that really impacts a family and individuals in the way in which they emotionally feel about that. But then also [Olga's] family is part of a different kind of...they were the next gathering of diasporic people from Puerto Rico, right? Like where economic circumstances, like time and again have led to waves of migration to the mainland. And then communities kind of found each other in New York and then these same communities that sort of recreated themselves in order to preserve culture and preserve community now are sort of being destroyed again by this kind of hyper gentrification that's been happening that is causing displacement again.

On writing complicated characters
I do think that the power to me of the art of fiction is that you can humanize and get people invested in complicated natures of adulthood and certain circumstances and moments in time in life in a way that even the best of, of nonfiction or journalism can do, but you can give the light moments that you sometimes can't when you're trying to convey the intensity of something... I think my goal was to write a novel about believable, complicated characters, living life through this challenging moment in time.

On the characters' resilience
I think we're all so much more resilient than we sometimes think we can be. The hard things, the hardest of things, we can give ourselves a moment and dust ourselves off and keep going. And that it's never too late to find that space, to love yourself and to feel loved... I really wanted these characters to be middle-aged. I felt it was so important to show that no matter how long you've been making do with one way of existing. There's always space to say, "This isn't enough." Sometimes we're lured into that space by trauma, but there's always space to say, "Okay, I can do it. And I'm gonna keep going."

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.