In the Typhoon’s Eye: A Story of Childhood and Leaving Home
by Bles Chavez-Bernstein
Outskirts Press

"I was seeing signs all over that I must get away, far away, from where I was."

Author Chavez-Bernstein was born in the Philippines and expertly recalls her childhood, her coming of age, and the weighty decisions she was forced to make at various junctures in this dynamic tale. Adults in her family carried haunting memories of surviving Japanese occupation, resistance, and war. Her parents endured cramped financial circumstances but moved upward and persisted whenever opportunities for small increments of improvement offered themselves. Her mother had a strong, beautiful singing voice, and the author inherited her singing talents and a gift for dramatic presentation that earned her first prize in a radio competition at age five. Coached by her mother, she gave a performance remarkably enhanced with real tears. She excelled in her academic endeavors, beginning first grade a year early and proving herself by gaining many honors.

However, the author's home life often starkly contrasted with her successes in the outer realm. Her father was gradually showing himself to have not only a harsh temper—resulting in bursts of anger and physical punishments—but also a craving for alcohol. His behaviors became increasingly shocking and, at times, terrifying as he destroyed furniture, revealed sexual unfaithfulness, and at one point, nearly killed his six-month old baby in her crib. And at an early age, Chavez-Bernstein experienced the horror of a massive typhoon that devastated their dwelling and left the little girl with one powerful principle: “The eye of the storm is the most peaceful place.” Destined to find an inner stability even in emotionally perilous conditions, the author would create her own solutions, including moving to the US and supporting her family back home with her earnings.

Battling with the harrowing experiences of being raised in a large, struggling family with a distraught mother and an uncontrollable, addicted father, Chavez-Bernstein maintained inward strength beyond her years, presaging her later achievements as a nurse, world traveler, poet, and memoirist of notable skill. Many chapters of her emotive recollections focus on incidents that could have been permanently damaging because of their drama, anxieties, and discouragement. Others cite significant personal triumphs, such as the use of her artistic talents to garner attention and pride and the slow but steady blooming of youthful romance. She gratefully witnessed her father’s recovery from alcohol addiction and assisted her parents and siblings by dint of her ambition.

The bulk of the author's engaging autobiography, enhanced with family photographs, focuses on her youth through the completion of college and a nursing degree. In a short epilogue, she describes her travels to and from the United States, where she now resides, working as a registered nurse and having received training in classical singing and a scholarship to the New World School of the Arts. She uses proceeds from her performances to advocate for those like herself who have struggled to succeed. Her book will especially touch those who have known the rigors of life with an addicted family member and those who have used their own strong qualities to enhance the lives of others. An example of deeply rooted determination and honest striving, Chavez-Bernstein’s work should be read and shared among immigrants, artists, and readers of all ages and nationalities seeking wider pathways.

A 2022 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

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