Reading When The Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe was like taking a stroll down memory lane with my parents and grandparents' stories of the 2nd World War. The story begins in the middle of the Japanese occupation with two brothers, 10 and 12 years, who leave the safety of their cellar to look for food and unexpectedly get to witness the brutality of some of the soldiers. When they get home to their anxious parents one of them is badly injured.
|Tess Uriza Holthe|
My heart immediately went out to the this group of people in Holthe's story which expertly captures the atmosphere of Manila during this time. It was like living a life of constant fear and worry that each day might be your last. The living conditions are by no means humane, with 5-7 people cramped in a tiny cellar, with no food or supplies, while bearing the stifling heat and breathing in each other's odors.
The novel is written like an epistolary novel, where a section is devoted to telling the story of each of the main characters. Their heartwarming, even gut-wrenching, stories drew me in right away. Each of the characters is very well developed and credible, especially that of Domingo Matapang. He embodies the philosophy that when elephants dance we fight back, instead of the having to hide.
Tess Uriza Holthe was born and raised in San Francisco to Filipino parents. Her mother, who was an elementary school librarian, always had a book saved for her as she was growing up. Her father, a maintenance mechanic for a sweater factory, recounted stories of his experiences as a child during the 2nd World War in the Philippines over countless browned-bag dinners with Tess. This was where Tess got her inspiration. Click on Tess' photo to go to her official site.
But one thing that we must know about the title is that "when the elephants dance" the chickens don't necessarily have to be careful, as written in the opening of the first chapter. In the last chapter Tess explicitly sends the message of the book that when the elephants dance we Filipinos have to stand strong together and put our differences aside. We are strong and we must keep our pride intact.