Brooklynite Olga Acevedo makes a living as a wedding planner for the ultra-wealthy, much to the disappointment of her revolutionary mother who abandoned their family to dedicate herself to liberating Puerto Rico. Her brother, Prieto, is a congressman representing the Sunset Park neighborhood but hiding secrets that could threaten his family and career. As Hurricane Maria heads for Puerto Rico, Olga and Prieto face their own storms and are set on a collision course with their mother once again.
This novel is ambitious and intricately plotted, chronicling the lives of many characters while taking on themes of identity, gentrification, classism, and colonial exploitation. I thought these topics were handled thoughtfully, though the book did feel a little disjointed at times as it juggled so many characters and plots.
The book is character-driven, and I loved the characters and thought they were all well developed. Olga is a strong woman who has the weight of her family on her shoulders. She’s spent years building up her business and finds a certain satisfaction in fleecing her customers out of money through clever, if not always ethical, tactics. Prieto is devoted to his neighborhood but has found that, as a congressman, he can’t actually do much for his constituents, especially as he faces blackmail from wealthy developers. Their mother communicates with both of her children through incredibly manipulative letters. Through her letters and interactions with people she works with in the revolution, we see that their mother is solely devoted to Puerto Rico and has no room in her heart for anyone else.
Beyond those three main characters, the secondary characters are also well developed and add personality to the novel. Dick, a wealthy man who Olga was sleeping with after planning his daughter’s wedding, narrates a couple chapters. I personally could have done without those chapters, but they did become more pertinent as the story heads towards the end. We also get to know Olga’s love interest, Matteo, who is a really wonderful, dynamic character and Olga’s cousin Mabel who is in the midst of planning her own wedding. I thought that the level of development in the secondary characters was very impressive and made me more invested in the story.
I think the novel tried to handle many, many themes and conflicts on various scales and, though it overall did well, there were moments where the plot moved more slowly and the dialogue felt disjointed. I also had to do quite a bit of research as I knew very little about PROMESA or the infrastructure and governance of Puerto Rico. This book revealed a huge gap in my knowledge and I was happy to start learning more. I am very curious to know how people who have a thorough knowledge of Puerto Rican history feel about this story.
Other than those few stilted moments, I thought this was a riveting, passionate, and moving story. If you’ve read Olga Dies Dreaming be sure to tell me what you thought!
CW: sexual assault, HIV/AIDs, abortion, racism