“Papa explains the war like this: ‘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.”
Once in a great while comes a storyteller who can illuminate worlds large and small, in ways both magical and true to life. When the Elephants Dance is set in the waning days of World War II, as the Japanese and the Americans engage in a fierce battle for possession of the Philippine Islands. Through the eyes of three narrators, thirteen-year-old Alejandro Karangalan, his spirited older sister Isabelle, and Domingo, a passionate guerilla commander, we see how ordinary people find hope for survival where none seems to exist. While the Karangalan family and their neighbors huddle together for survival in the cellar of a house, they tell magical stories to one another based on Filipino myth that transport the listeners from the chaos of the war around them and give them new resolve to continue fighting. Outside the safety of their refuge the war rages on—fiery bombs torch the countryside, Japanese soldiers round up and interrogate innocent people, and from the hills guerilla fighters wage a desperate campaign against the enemy. Inside the cellar, these men, women, and children put their hopes and dreams on hold as they wait out the war.
This stunning debut novel celebrates with richness and depth the spirit of the Filipino people and their fascinating story and marks the introduction of an author who will join the ranks of writers such as Arundhati Roy, Manil Suri, and Amy Tan.
"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.
I first read this book five years ago in one of my college class. Even though it has been so long since I last read the book I still remember it. It was a very touching story that evoke alot of emotion in me. It is a very strong story and I did cry =p. Made me wonder what my great grandparents and grandparents went though when they were living in the phillippines at that time. I am glad I took that class because who knows if I would of read this book if I didn't.
She pulls you in...
I've read this twice and it still invokes so much emotion as if I've read it for the first time. Her imagery and her ability to write as three different people is awe inspiring. Love this book.
Amazing from beginning to end
It was hard to put this book down. From page one, Holthe throws a lot of imagery at you, that at times is very hard to handle. It was probably the most emotionally evoking book I have EVER read. I was emotionally connected to this story, and felt as if I was right there in the story. It s by far the best book I have ever read. I highly suggest this book.