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Review: When The Elephants Dance, by Teen Blogger Hannah

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."

When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe, set during the last month of the World War II tells the story of the Karangalan family, their neighbours and friends who seek refuge in the basement of the family home from the Japanese soldiers. It is Narrated through the 3 main characters: Domingo, a guerilla fighter, and Alejandro and Isabelle who happen to be siblings. Time is passed in the basement when member of the group tell mystical stories of their life, each story is unique and lends a different perspective on Philippine culture. Through the characters Holthe explores complex ideas and questions such as honor, family, religion, and patriotism, one’s true identity, loyalty and betrayal.

I started reading this book because the quote (listed at the top of this blog) really caught my attention and intrigued me. I thought it was such an imaginative creative way to describe a war that I could not control myself from diving head first into this book and finishing it over the weekend, despite the fact that I four exams in the following days.

When the Elephants Dance would fall under both the genres of historical fiction and Magic realism. Not many have heard or read a book under the genre of Magic realism, myself included. A genre challenging to define, Encylopedia Britannica describes it as "narrative strategy that is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into seemingly realistic fiction." Many mystical stories were incorporated to this brutally realistic war book which is very authentic and nothing like I have every read before. Although the magic realism in this book did score a lot of points in the originality section, at times it posed a bit challenging to follow through. As the  mystical stories would be so long it sort of felt like a dozen of short stories that were completely unrelated to the plot as they also had new settings and characters. This can sometimes becoming a little confusing because after reading 50 pages of a mythical story it takes a few seconds to adjust back into the actual book. As well as result of the many short stories and the new characters that were introduced to to the book each time, I felt a bit overwhelmed with vast amount of supporting characters.

Despite the overwhelming amount of characters and and the testing of my concentration levels nevertheless I absolutely love this book and would definitely recommend this book. This book had taught me a lot about the philippines involvement in the World War II, something that I was completely ignorant too. I was very impressed with the authors Holthe creative, imaginative, authentic way of portraying the war and can not wait to read any of her other books in the future.


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