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The Hurricane Book

Holding Still in the Thrashing: Claudia Acevedo-Quinones’s The Hurricane Book: A Lyric History

Patrick Parks

The Hurricane Book: A Lyric History
Claudia Acevedo-Quinones
Rose Metal Press, October 2023


n a book with the word “hurricane” in the title, it stands to reason that there will be a storm, along with the resultant chaos, life-shattering events, painful recoveries and, perhaps, a foreboding of more tumult. While all of these things are a part of Claudia Acevedo-Quinone’s memoir, The Hurricane Book: A Lyric History, there is much more here than a narrative of the aftermath of a terrible tempest. Using six hurricanes that devastated her homeland Puerto Rico as touchstones, Acevedo-Quinones traces the history of the island and her family, as well as her own.

In her introduction, the author explains how she had started out wanting to write “a chronological account of my maternal family’s move from Galicia, Spain to Puerto Rico in the 1600s,” but that project was forgotten after 40 pages and not revisited until 2017, 14 years after she started it, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. She was living in the United States then and experienced something of an epiphany: “Even though I’d left the island more than a decade prior, I hadn’t felt the weight of my choice to leave quite as soberly as when the island was going through that particular catastrophe, one of many happening concurrently. I decided to go back to the original draft of this book to the story of the ancestors who, like me, had left their place of birth.”

But the passage of time and the direction her life had taken made returning a different proposition. No longer did she see the story “in a strictly narrative way and started to conceptualize a hybrid way to tell it.” The result is a volume comprising poetry, family stories, historical facts, folklore, recollected shards of her own life, maps, and photographs. These components are arranged around the aforementioned half-dozen hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico between 1928 and 2017, giving each section a similar framework. The result is a book that is both rigid and unbound, linear and swirling, clear and confusing, which is what Acevedo-Quinones may have envisioned when she says in the prefatory author’s note that The Hurricane Book is “as much about process as it about what is being told.”

In telling this story of her family, the Puerto Rican people and the island’s colonial past, Acevedo-Quinones establishes each hurricane as a kind of eye around which the world spins. The first section, for example, focuses on the 1928 storm named San Felipe II and provides the reader with a brief background of the country’s earliest populace, the Taino, whose existence was characterized as much by annual wars with the Carib people from the Lesser Antilles as it was by the planting and harvesting of hardy root crops. But these yearly battles were nothing in comparison to the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Spanish who arrived in the middle of the 16th century. While not necessarily thematically linked—at least not tightly—Acevedo-Quinones follows this history lesson with a description of the destruction wrought by San Felipe II and then segues into tales of her own family at the time.

Each section unfolds in like fashion, moving chronologically forward as another storm batters the island, with the author becoming more of a presence in her own memoir as the years pass. Her observations become keener, too, because she witnesses events rather than hearing about them secondhand, especially in regard to her family. Her mother, she comes to realize, suffers from mental illness which, when self-medicating with alcohol does not help, lands her in the hospital for treatment. And her father, who left when she was two, is a self-absorbed man whose many occupations are catalogued in “Things My Father Has Been.” When reflecting on her parents’ flawed and unpredictable natures, Acevedo-Quinones says at one point, “It’s hard to describe the feeling of losing a live parent.”

After she comes to understand that neither her mother nor father will provide her with the kind of emotional support needed, Acevedo-Quinones leaves Puerto Rico for New York. Struggling to make ends meet as a university student on work-study, she slips into a state of what she labels inadequacy: “There was the constant fear of the floor giving into the weight of who I wasn’t.” To mask her insecurity, she turned to reckless behavior—“a couple of pregnancy scares…Some sexual violence. There was too much alcohol.”

Acevedo-Quinones treats her own failings with a cold objective eye, the same eye that sees her whole world. The even-handed tone allows her to confess her guilt and accept moments of redemption with equal grace. At the conclusion of her story, recovered and feeling healthy, she is floating in the ocean off a beach on Long Island. She takes stock of her life; in particular, the sense of abandoning her family, her people and her country and feeling ashamed. Still, she notes, “there was also a tenderness between my dead and me, an understanding that we all do what we can to hold still in the thrashing.”

Getting to this point is the point of the book, but, as Acevedo-Quinones states, process is as important as the story, and the careful selection and arrangement of its many parts is crucial to the reader’s understanding. Take the history of the people who settled the island and their many descendants. Once free with a culture of their own, the Taino were nearly wiped out during early colonization and then continued to be abused and undervalued the entirety of their history. Acevedo-Quinones traces this desolate history by including disparate facts, ranging from a long-running practice of sterilizing women to former President Donald Trump’s infamous tossing out of paper towels. The compiling of this demeaning treatment serves to buttress Acevedo-Quinones’ own sense of inadequacy and to help explain the Puerto Rican diaspora that has seen the country’s population drop regularly; between 2010-2020 alone, 11.3% of the people moved away.

Structurally, The Hurricane Book’s blueprint is made evident in the table of contents, but Acevedo-Quinones uses another, less obvious device in building the book. Near the end of the narrative, her mother calls her from her car in Puerto Rico where she is waiting to get gas. This is after Hurricane Maria—the last of six hurricanes Acevedo-Quinones uses as mile markers—and gas is scarce. Her mother laments her current situation, “Lines, she said, my life is made up of lines now.” Though not of the same variety as a string of cars at a gas station, lines connect much of the book’s fragmented structure: historical timelines, metrological lines, family lines and the many lines that make up a single life. In a way, these lines anchor the turbulent worlds Acevedo-Quinones creates, tying them together to form a whole made stronger to withstand the chaos left in the aftermath of whatever storm blows through.


Patrick Parks