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When the Elephants Dance (2002)

by Tess Uriza Holthe

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5131941,070 (3.76)17
In the final weeks of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, three different Filipino narrators recount the experiences of a people desperately struggling in the midst of the horrors of war.
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» See also 17 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
I loved this book. This book takes place in the Philippines as WWII is nearing the end. Japan occupies them, having driven the Americans out. The Americans want control back and fight to get it. The book centers around the Karangalan family, who with some of their neighbors, hide away from the conflict in their small, cramped basement. The author weaves the stories of three of the occupants: a teenage boy, his older sister and a militant guerilla to tell of their current struggles. As their story unfolds, others in the basement share stories from their past, some folktales and mystical, others hidden secrets. Together this all blends to give insight into the islands history, beliefs, and resilience. Really good book. ( )
  cjyap1 | Aug 1, 2020 |
My grandfather fought in the Pacific during WWII. I am not sure if it was experience that enhanced my interest in WWII but it certainly did not hinder it. Books like [bc:We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese|50040|We Band of Angels The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese|Elizabeth M. Norman|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1441565852s/50040.jpg|48915] [bc:Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest|42389|Band of Brothers E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest|Stephen E. Ambrose|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388247701s/42389.jpg|903474] gave incredible insight into the American side of the war. The stories make me emotional any time I try to discuss them.

The difference with [bc:When the Elephants Dance|16035|When the Elephants Dance|Tess Uriza Holthe|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1425767833s/16035.jpg|2074473] is hearing the story from the Filipino point of view. The Philippines had been controlled through the centuries by several different countries from Spain to China. During WWII both Japan and the US occupied their islands and the locals had no way of knowing whether they would be an independent country once the war ended.

Tess Uriza Holthe provided insight into Filipino culture. The folklore shared by some of the characters further emphasized the history behind the Philippines. The stories and beliefs helped families endure during a time of survival.

( )
  godmotherx5 | Apr 5, 2018 |
Story set amongst the Philippine people during the WWII. While it is a good book, its side stories seem to long and diverting and their various morals as to the family repeated. ( )
  snash | Jun 14, 2016 |
At its core When the Elephants Dance celebrates the audacity of the human spirit in the most horrific, dehumanizing situations. It shows a people who refused to let go of their hope and love even while they were being tortured, raped, murdered. Their stories demonstrated a self-awareness I rarely read in folklore or magical realism: they so willingly admitted to their flaws and mistakes, all for the sake of the listener - the next generation - who they hoped would take those stories to heart and make a better choice, have a happier life.

In the author's introduction she mentioned how, growing up, she longed to find a book that told her story, that featured her people, but she never could. I'm grateful she's writing the books she always wanted to read.

Without When the Elephants Dance I might never have known about the Filipino experience during World War II. Such a haunting yet hopeful story, and a debut no less! Highly recommended to history buffs, especially the Asian experience during World War II.

5 stars

Disclaimer: As one might expect in a book set during a war, it's brutal. Graphic scenes of torture, rape and murder, involving both adults and children. However, the author breaks up that reality of war with the characters telling each other stories from their past steeped in folklore, which gives the reader a chance to catch their breath in between what's happening to the characters in the present. ( )
  flying_monkeys | Feb 25, 2016 |
First sentence: Papa explains the war like this: “When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful.”. I first picked up this book because of the title and this opening line. The elephants in this tale are the Japanese and Americans fighting over the Philippines. The Filipinos are the chickens.

The novel takes place during WWII, towards the end of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. The Filipinos had suffered greatly during those three years of occupation. They were starving, and subject to being picked up by the Japanese, seemingly at random, only to be tortured or killed. The book focuses on an extended family living in the basement of an apparently abandoned house. They venture out, one or two at a time, only to forage for food or medicine. To comfort themselves and each other they tell stories – sometimes traditional Filipino folk tales, and sometimes stories from their own past. These are intended to help each other understand and endure their situation, or to teach a lesson they will need to survive.

It’s an interesting idea and it could have been a really good book, but Holthe just wasn’t quite up to the task. The basic plot of the family’s enduring/surviving the occupation is a riveting one, and Holthe really shines in those sections of the book. However, it seems she was trying too hard to impress, or that she was determined to include every possible Filipino tradition and folk tale in an effort to educate the reader about her parents’ homeland. When she interrupts the plot line to tell another story, she loses momentum, and the attention of the reader. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 24, 2016 |
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Papa explains the war like this: "When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In the final weeks of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, three different Filipino narrators recount the experiences of a people desperately struggling in the midst of the horrors of war.

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