When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe

Rating: 5 of 5

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.

Disclaimer: As one might expect from 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.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

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