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When the Elephants Dance Paperback – June 24, 2003
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Tess Uriza Holthe writes with a mixture of metaphor and fact, a combination of the supernatural and the all-too-real. When the Elephants Dance opens, in fact, with an apposite metaphor for a horrible reality: "Papa explains the war like this: 'When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful.'" The elephants in question are the Americans and the Japanese, fighting for possession of the Philippines. The chickens are, of course, the ordinary Filipinos. Three of these "chickens" by turns tell us the story of the Japanese occupation as a small neighborhood near Manila literally goes underground, hiding in the cellar and swapping stories. Holthe takes her onus as a seminal Filipino voice seriously; she sometimes seems determined to cram every bit of tradition, history, and myth into her novel, to the detriment of the plot's propulsion. But readers who stay with her will be rewarded with an extraordinary display of historical color, and will certainly root for her three narrators. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
"Papa explains the war like this," narrates 13-year-old Alejandro as he heads through a series of Japanese barricades and check points. " `When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful.' The great beasts, as they circle one another, shaking the trees and trumpeting loudly, are the Amerikanos and the Japanese as they fight. And our Philippine Islands? We are the small chickens." Inspired by her father, who grew up in the Philippines under the Japanese occupation during WWII, first-time novelist Holthe writes about the experience from a variety of civilian perspectives. Set in Manila during the final week of the Japanese-American battle for control of the islands, the novel centers on a small, mismatched group of families and neighbors who huddle in a cellar while Japanese occupiers terrorize and pillage above. Because food and water are scarce, some of the refugees must leave the shelter to forage for sustenance. In simple, strong language, Holthe conveys the terrifying experience of darting bullets and machetes above ground and the equally horrendous experience of waiting for loved ones to return. Grounded in Philippine myth and culture, the novel is filled with beautiful, allegorical stories told by the story's elders, who try to share wisdom and inspire their captive audience in the midst of gruesome violence. Primarily narrated by Alejandro; his older, headstrong sister, Isabelle; and Domingo, a guerrilla commander living a double life one with his family in the cellar, the other with his true love and adopted son in his rebel army this beautiful, harsh war story is no epic. Rather, Holthe presents personal, pointed fragments that clearly demonstrate history's cultural and personal fallout. (Jan.)Forecast: A promotional blitz an eight-city author tour, targeted marketing to Asian organizations, and radio and print advertising campaigns should alert readers who appreciate simple, moving storytelling to this powerful debut.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The storyline follows some Filipino neighbors who hide in a basement during the final days of the war, venturing out only to find food. These trips are dangerous and capture means torture or death, but still they venture out. There's a 12-year-old boy, his 17-year-old sister as well as a young man who has chosen to be a guerilla. We get to know each of them well, as well as their families and identify with their fear, hunger and courage. But Ms. Holthe has added a second element to the story. While they are trapped in that basement, and later when they are prisoners in Manila, the elders tell stories laced with magic realism, which not only keeps their minds off the war around them, but also introduces the reader to some of the history, myths and legends of the people. This structure added depth and texture as the life lessons they taught affected the hard choices made by the characters.
I loved the voice, the tone, the interweaving of past and present. And I loved learning about the Philippine culture. I could almost taste the food, smell the ripe foliage, feel the heat. I learned about the hard years of Spanish rule, the role of the church, and the poverty of the lower classes. There are lessons in everyday living. And some moving love stories. This book has everything. The author, however, has been criticized for getting distances between places confused and for misspelling Tagalog words. As an American, however, I was not aware of these small details. I was totally caught up in the story and found myself thinking about the characters long after I put the book down for the day. This is a simply wonderful book and I highly recommend it.
In the wartime Philipines, several families gather in a cellar to hide from the Japanese soldiers who terrorize the Filipino population. To pass the time and quell the pains of hunger, they tell each other stories, which are without a doubt the best part of the novel. Rich with Filipino myth and magical realism, each story reveals something not only about the characters, but about this long-ignored but proud Pacific culture. The story of war, which plays out simultaneously, is less captivating, but that's only because of the superb quality of the stories, which would be hard for any writer to top. Still, the story of these people, caught between the Japanese and the Americans, illuminates a part of the war that many of us have never really learned about.
This is a triumphant, beautifully written book, which stayed with me a long time after I finished it. Very highly recommended.
The basic story is told from three different points of view; that of Alejandro, the oldest brother of a family hiding in their basement during the Japanese occupation, with neighbors and friends, Isabelle, the oldest daughter, and Domingo Matapang, a guerilla fighter trying to save his country and family. Intermingled are stories from some of the most wonderfully entertaining group of people sharing the cellar with Alejandro and Isabelle's family.
What these main characters had to go through will tear your heart out; some of the stories will gladden you and make you smile, all will tug at your heart strings.
I couldn't put this book down! I was totally involved with what was happening in the Phillipines, what was happening to the characters, how they were going to come through such horrendous conditions and treatment, and through it all the history and legends of the people of the Phillipines was amazing. What a wonderful tribute to the strength and heart of an amazing culture.
I can't reccomend this book strong enough, I loved it!!!
For a first novel, Ms. Holthe's "When the Elephants Dance" is a marvelous piece of work. I did get a bit irritated by the misspelled and mis-phrased Tagalog words and statements, some details on fauna, and also the lapses in time judgment (crossing over to Coron, Palawan and back to Manila in less than a day). For that, I fault the editors. Nonetheless, I consider those trivial in the face of great storylines and lyric and magical narratives of the allegorical stories. I grew intimate with each of the narrators and the stories they both told and heard.
I wish the novel never ended. When I finished the book, I felt that that world was gone and I had to say goodbye to my new friends and lovers.
I hope Ms. Holthe continues to write and I eagerly await her second opus. I think her first novel is just heralding whatever comes next.
She's got a remarkable voice, and with "When the Elephants Dance," Tess Uriza Holthe is just clearing her throat.