REVIEW: The Hurricane Book: A Lyric History by Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones

Reviewed by Emily Webber

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cover of the hurricane book by Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones; abstract waves in background

The Hurricane Book: A Lyric History by Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones, a hybrid memoir and history of her family and Puerto Rico, is framed by the history of hurricanes hitting the island and includes a mix of poetry, prose, and historical facts and maps. In this short book, Acevedo-Quiñones manages to tell the story of her family and how Puerto Rico was shaped by colonialism and the environment.

While we regularly see in the news the impact of environmental effects on people, what we hear less of, and The Hurricane Book shows so well, is the horrifying effect of colonialism down through the generations both at the larger scale and through the personal history of one family. How do you piece together an entire family and country history in a book that is less than 150 pages? The Hurricane Book successfully does it by using different forms of writing. This story feels as if it is collectively told by Acevedo-Quiñones and her family, along with the voices of ancestors, researched and told in order to better understand a traumatic history and the will to survive.

The frame of the book is every major hurricane that has hit Puerto Rico, starting in 1928 with Hurricane San Felipe II and ending in 2017 with Hurricane Maria. Each section begins with historical notes detailing the outside forces and tragic consequences from colonialism and a description of the hurricane and its impact on the island. The people of Puerto Rico are shaped by the hardships living on the island, not only battered by environmental impacts but the human ones as well, which included forced sterilizations of women, policies that kept people poor and illiterate, and exposure to chemicals.

This book is also a deeply personal story of a family. Acevedo-Quiñones maps out her relatives in various family trees throughout the book and tells their stories, examining her family history of addiction, abuse, and complicated family dynamics. The Hurricane Book shows so well how we see different versions of people over time—through our interactions with them, overheard conversations, stories told about them, and their relationships with other people. What someone knows of another person, even in very close relationships, is constantly shifting. People come to know different versions of each other depending on the secrets kept or revealed.

In my uncle’s poem about my grandfather, I met an entirely different younger Leonardo than the one I made up. My uncle’s version was whimsical, hardworking, a bedtime story provider, as dreamy and wholesome as a Sunday. 

Acevedo-Quiñones also shows how cycles of trauma and addiction continue down through the generations. Her mother battles alcoholism and mental illness. Her father is more interested in his relationships with women and is not a good caregiver. She battles with the trauma of losing a “live parent” and with some of the same issues as her parents. With a history of conflict, destructive hurricanes, and a dysfunctional family, Acevedo-Quiñones describes the survival mentality that develops and seeps into her entire way of living.

Being acutely aware that everything can change in a second has mostly paid off in other ways. I can, for example, pack for a vacation in five minutes. I can move to a new city with two suitcases and a box. I can identify what is essential and put whatever that is in a neat, portable container.

She then lists what she packs for the worst-case scenario, including “1 or 2 loved things.”

Unsurprisingly, The Hurricane Book is a beautiful portrait of a family that tells their truth bravely and without shame. With language that engages all the senses, using both English and Spanish, it shows how a family takes shape over time and has its own secrets, history, and language. Forgiveness can come from a better understanding of why people are flawed, but what always remains is the longing for things to be different and for the love from others to be perfect and unconditional.

I know my parents couldn’t give it in the way they wanted to. But understanding something doesn’t help me make peace with it. It makes the attainment of the missing thing all the more urgent. I can uncover my parents’ history, evaluate their intentions, forgive them, level with them. But my life will always be the undoing of the idea, the feeling that I am not a good enough reason to get healthy.

The Hurricane Book is not so much a book about recovery from extreme weather, colonialism, and family traumas but one about survival. One that tells how people keep moving through extreme hardship, what they hold on to, and how they endure the worst with love still left for others regardless of the past.

Meet the Contributor

emily-webberEmily Webber’s writing has appeared in The Writer magazine, the Ploughshares Blog, Five Points, Maudlin House, Brevity, and Slip Lip Magazine. She’s the author of a chapbook of flash fiction, Macerated, from Paper Nautilus Press. Find more at and on Twitter: @emilyannwebber.


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