Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel Olga Dies Dreaming has definitely made the rounds. An immensely successful first novel, Hulu considered the story for a series even before the book was published.


Think in the Morning recommends the book for many reasons. For anyone whose knowledge of Puerto Rico is limited, we think this novel is an ideal way to learn more. The book is a family saga. It follows Olga, a wedding planner for the wealthy elite, and her brother Prieto, a politician, Nuyoricans (Americans of Puerto Rican descent raised in New York), their large family of aunts and uncles, and their activist mother Blanca who left them to be raised by their grandmother while she pursued social and political justice for Puerto Rico.


Olga shares her observations as she witnesses the comedy of life in a Kardashian-like pop culture. She and Prieto prove once again that old observation that the truth is harder to believe than fiction.


The complex relationship between Olga, Prieto and their mother portrays the common observation that the current generation inevitably rebels against the politics and values of their parents. While Blanca is consumed by her dedication of social causes, Olga and Prieto are seduced by a vacuous materialism even though Olga observes how wealth can be empty and exhausting.


Olga realized that she’d allowed herself to become distracted from the true American dream—accumulating money—by its phantom cousin, accumulating fame. She would never make that mistake again.



Olga began to notice that her clients were growing steadily richer while the people doing the work were getting compensated in exactly the same way. Even the rich people appeared less content than before. Simply existing seemed an immense burden to them. Their wealth bought them homes that were “exhausting” to deal with, vacations that were “overwhelming” to plan for. What was required to please them, to make them feel joy on their most joyful day, became increasingly impossible to achieve. Olga raised her prices, inflated her bills, increased her markups. But the money didn’t make any of it feel better. She began, gradually at first, to find not only her actual day-to-day work tedious and stupid, but also the entire project of her life. Around this time Olga noticed that her mother’s notes no longer filled her, even for a moment, with smug satisfaction.


One of our favorite scenes in the book is when Olga is appearing on Good Morning, Later (a television show similar to the Today Show), just after hurricane Maria devastates Puerto Rico. It is at this moment when an existential change in Olga takes over. She loses it and the experience reorients her life. The scene is so funny and poignant at the same time that we quote it in detail.


“Oh my!” Tammy suddenly exclaimed. She paused. “Olga, I just remembered. You are of Puerto Rican heritage, aren’t you?” “Yes,” Olga said with a solemn nod. Internally, she screamed, Fuck. Fuck! Tammy! “And is your family over there okay?” Tammy asked, gently resting her hand on Olga’s shoulder. “The images look just awful.” “Well, Tammy,” Olga began, and as soon as she opened her mouth she knew that she was not going to give them the Good Morning, Later version of this conversation that they wanted. She wasn’t even going to give them the Good Morning version of this conversation, “the images look awful, because it is awful. This morning, right before I came on, I saw pictures of American children lapping up rainwater because their water supply has been contaminated by the dumping of toxic waste by U.S. corporations all over the island—” “Yes, Olga,” Toni tried to cut in, “it really is hard to—” “No, Toni, Tammy asked me how my family is, so I want to tell her. My cousin can’t locate her sick grandmother because they have no cell service and in the unlikely event that she got to a hospital, she’s still probably dead because the hospitals don’t have enough fuel to operate the generators. But she won’t be the only one. When this is over, mark my words, thousands will be dead, because this is just the beginning, and I want to be really clear here—” Tammy tried to cut in, but Olga swatted her away before a word could get out of her mouth. She could see that the red light of the camera was still on. The producers were going to let her keep going. Fuck it, she thought. “These deaths will be blood on this president’s hands, this administration’s hands. They can try and blame the Puerto Rican debt; they can blame their lackey—the governor down there—but he’s just a figurehead. At the end of the day, this was not an earthquake, it was a hurricane. A hurricane that the government knew was coming for a whole week and did nothing to prepare for. What we are witnessing is the systemic destruction of the Puerto Rican people at the hands of the government, to benefit the ultra-rich and private corporate interests.” Toni awkwardly laughed. “Oh my, Olga, that sounds a bit conspiratorial, no?” “If it does, Toni, it’s just because you aren’t informed. It’s not your fault. Our schools whitewash history. So, let me explain. Puerto Ricans are Americans, but they have no elected representation in Congress or the Senate, and because they also aren’t a state, their governor has no authority to do things other governors can do, like call in the National Guard. Only the president can do that. Only the president can call in FEMA. Fifty percent of the island didn’t have power before Maria, but somehow the government didn’t think to call in the USS Comfort until this weekend? They knew before the storm that the island’s infrastructure was fragile, that they would lose communications, yet they only sent two Black Hawk helicopters? My brother—a U.S. congressman—traveled with the governor of New York to Puerto Rico two days—two days—after Maria hit. And the federal government just sent someone on Monday? “Listen, private interest has been trying to gain control of Puerto Rico—the land, the agencies—for ages. The government has always been their coconspirators. As I speak, this administration still hasn’t lifted the Jones Act! People are suffering—starving for food—but still being penalized with taxes on produce and other goods just for living on an island the U.S. government stole from them in the first place! That’s criminal! It shouldn’t be law. They are going to starve the Puerto Rican people of resources and support and, because there is a cap to what people can take—no power, no clean water, no schools, no jobs—they will effectively smoke people off the island, and then, that’s when the vultures will sweep in. They are already circling.” Olga stopped and noticed that Tammy was rapidly rotating through variations of a smile: a mask of sympathy, puzzlement, and possibly even a grimace of fear flitting across her face as she attempted to find the proper expression in the lexicon of morning TV responses. Toni had her hand to her earpiece. “Well, Olga,” Toni said, “it’s very clear how passionate you are about Maria recovery. We are going to need to cut to break, but before we go, any final words for the president? He is an avid news watcher!” Olga was a little surprised they would let her speak again. “Yes. Yes, I do.” She paused to think of exactly what she wanted to do with this opportunity. “Mr. President, I hope that the ghosts of every Puerto Rican who died at your hands in this catastrophe haunt your dreams each night, dancing an all-night salsa party in your twisted mind.”


There are so many good characters, so many great scenes. What more do you need? When we first started this book we weren’t sure we were going to like it but by the end we loved it. You will too. Buy it. Read it. Enjoy.


The title was inspired by the poem Puerto Rican Obituary by Pedro Pietri posted below.

Puerto Rican Obituary



They worked

They were always on time

They were never late

They never spoke back

when they were insulted

They worked

They never took days off

that were not on the calendar

They never went on strike

without permission

They worked

ten days a week

and were only paid for five

They worked

They worked

They worked

and they died

They died broke

They died owing

They died never knowing

what the front entrance

of the first national city bank looks like







All died yesterday today

and will die again tomorrow

passing their bill collectors

on to the next of kin

All died

waiting for the garden of eden

to open up again

under a new management

All died

dreaming about america

waking them up in the middle of the night

screaming: Mira Mira

your name is on the winning lottery ticket

for one hundred thousand dollars

All died

hating the grocery stores

that sold them make-believe steak

and bullet-proof rice and beans

All died waiting dreaming and hating


Dead Puerto Ricans

Who never knew they were Puerto Ricans

Who never took a coffee break

from the ten commandments


the landlords of their cracked skulls

and communicate with their latino souls







From the nervous breakdown streets

where the mice live like millionaires

and the people do not live at all

are dead and were never alive



died waiting for his number to hit


died waiting for the welfare check

to come and go and come again


died waiting for her ten children

to grow up and work

so she could quit working


died waiting for a five dollar raise


died waiting for his supervisor to drop dead

so he could get a promotion


Is a long ride

from Spanish Harlem

to long island cemetery

where they were buried

First the train

and then the bus

and the cold cuts for lunch

and the flowers

that will be stolen

when visiting hours are over

Is very expensive

Is very expensive

But they understand

Their parents understood

Is a long non-profit ride

from Spanish Harlem

to long island cemetery







All died yesterday today

and will die again tomorrow


Dreaming about queens

Clean-cut lily-white neighborhood

Puerto Ricanless scene

Thirty-thousand-dollar home

The first spics on the block

Proud to belong to a community

of gringos who want them lynched

Proud to be a long distance away

from the sacred phrase: Que Pasa


These dreams

These empty dreams

from the make-believe bedrooms

their parents left them

are the after-effects

of television programs

about the ideal

white american family

with black maids

and latino janitors

who are well train—

to make everyone

and their bill collectors

laugh at them

and the people they represent



died dreaming about a new car


died dreaming about new anti-poverty programs


died dreaming about a trip to Puerto Rico


died dreaming about real jewelry


died dreaming about the irish sweepstakes


They all died

like a hero sandwich dies

in the garment district

at twelve o’clock in the afternoon

social security number to ashes

union dues to dust


They knew

they were born to weep

and keep the morticians employed

as long as they pledge allegiance

to the flag that wants them destroyed

They saw their names listed

in the telephone directory of destruction

They were train to turn

the other cheek by newspapers

that mispelled mispronounced

and misunderstood their names

and celebrated when death came

and stole their final laundry ticket


They were born dead

and they died dead

Is time

to visit sister lopez again

the number one healer

and fortune card dealer

in Spanish Harlem

She can communicate

with your late relatives

for a reasonable fee

Good news is guaranteed

Rise Table Rise Table

death is not dumb and disable—

Those who love you want to know

the correct number to play

Let them know this right away

Rise Table Rise Table

death is not dumb and disable

Now that your problems are over

and the world is off your shoulders

help those who you left behind

find financial peace of mind

Rise Table Rise Table

death is not dumb and disable

If the right number we hit

all our problems will split

and we will visit your grave

on every legal holiday

Those who love you want to know

the correct number to play

let them know this right away

We know your spirit is able

Death is not dumb and disable








All died yesterday today

and will die again tomorrow

Hating fighting and stealing

broken windows from each other

Practicing a religion without a roof

The old testament

The new testament


according to me gospel

of the internal revenue

the judge and jury and executioner

protector and eternal bill collector

Secondhand shit for sale

learn how to say Como Esta Usted


and you will make a fortune

They are dead

They are dead

and will not return from the dead

until they stop neglecting

the art of their dialogue—

for broken english lessons

to impress the mister goldsteins—

who keep them employed

as lavaplatos

porters messenger boys

factory workers maids stock clerks

shipping clerks assistant mailroom

assistant, assistant assistant

to the assistant’s assistant

assistant lavaplatos and automatic

artificial smiling doormen

for the lowest wages of the ages

and rages when you demand a raise

because is against the company policy



died hating Miguel because Miguel’s

used car was in better running condition

than his used car


died hating Milagros because Milagros

had a color television set

and he could not afford one yet


died hating Olga because Olga

made five dollars more on the same job


died hating Manuel because Manuel

had hit the numbers more times

than she had hit the numbers


died hating all of them




and Olga

because they all spoke broken english

more fluently than he did


And now they are together

in the main lobby of the void

Addicted to silence

Off limits to the wind

Confine to worm supremacy

in long island cemetery

This is the groovy hereafter

the protestant collection box

was talking so loud and proud about


Here lies Juan

Here lies Miguel

Here lies Milagros

Here lies Olga

Here lies Manuel

who died yesterday today

and will die again tomorrow

Always broke

Always owing

Never knowing

that they are beautiful people

Never knowing

the geography of their complexion




If only they

had turned off the television

and tune into their own imaginations

If only they

had used the white supremacy bibles

for toilet paper purpose

and make their latino souls

the only religion of their race

If only they

had return to the definition of the sun

after the first mental snowstorm

on the summer of their senses

If only they

had kept their eyes open

at the funeral of their fellow employees

who came to this country to make a fortune

and were buried without underwears







will right now be doing their own thing

where beautiful people sing

and dance and work together

where the wind is a stranger

to miserable weather conditions

where you do not need a dictionary

to communicate with your people


Se Habla Espanol

all the time

Aqui you salute your flag first

Aqui there are no dial soap commercials

Aqui everybody smells good

Aqui tv dinners do not have a future

Aqui the men and women admire desire

and never get tired of each other

Aqui Que Pasa Power is what’s happening

Aqui to be called negrito

means to be called LOVE