Reviews

Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

"Papa explains the war like this: `When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful.' " This opening line from Holthe's first novel provides a succinct description of the tale that follows. The chickens in this case are a small group of Filipinos living near Manila in the final, bloody days of World War II. After nearly three years of violent Japanese occupation, the Karangalans and several of their neighbors, including the wife of a famous guerrilla commander, are holed up in the basement of their house as U.S. forces advance on Manila. To fuel their courage and sustain their hope, the basement dwellers spend time telling magical tales based on Filipino myth and legend tales that teach important lessons about life, love, and responsibility. Based to some degree on the experience of Holthe's father, this paean to the courage and resilience of the Filipino people is not for the squeamish. But it is an impressive debut, with well-drawn characterizations and a plot that readily captures and holds the reader's interest. Highly recommended for all public and larger academic collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/01.] David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

"When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful," Alejandro Karangalan's father tells him, explaining the Philippines' position between the U.S. and Japan during World War II. As the two superpowers battle for control of the islands, the people of the Philippines are caught in the middle. Hiding from the brutal Japanese soldiers in their cellar, Alejandro, his family, and the friends who have moved in with them exchange mystical stories about their pasts. But the war is ever present: 13-year-old Alejandro is tortured when he goes out to get medicine for his ailing father. His older sister, Isabelle, is raped when she tries to help a badly injured guerilla, Domingo. Domingo, fighting for the freedom of the Philippines, is in direct opposition with Feliciano, a Japanese sympathizer, who can no longer ignore Japanese brutality after Isabelle's rape. Together, Domingo and Feliciano must put aside their differences to rescue Alejandro and Domingo's young son. Holthe expertly weaves the mystical stories of the characters with the harsh reality of war to create a vivid, gorgeous novel. --Kristine Huntley


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

This debut comes with a special endorsement from Crown Executive Editor Kristin Kiser, positioning it as the discovery of a great new voice. Holthe's story is set in the Philippines as the Japanese invade and features four people hiding in a cellar who tamp down their fears by telling mythic tales. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

"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. (Jan.) Forecast: A promotional blitz an eight-city author tour, targeted marketing to Asian organizations, and radio and print advertising campaigns should alert readers who appreciate simple, moving storytelling to this powerful debut (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

With the exception of Imelda Marcos's shoe collection and Douglas McArthur's epithet "I shall return!" Filipino history is largely unfamiliar to North Americans. Despite substantial immigration from the Philippines, that nation's haunting story has been doomed to lie at the margins of US cultural interests. Thus, when a major imprint like Crown bankrolls a fat Asian American novel recounting native Filipino experience in WW II, attention will follow. Tracing the fates of the humble Karangalan family and its neighbors during the ghastly endgame of McArthur's counterattack against the Japanese, Holthe's novel borrows from magic realist tradition in crafting a tapestry of linked narratives. Horrific wartime civilian and guerilla resistance life contrasts with dreamy, escapist memories of bygone days drawn from the deep well of Filipino custom, psyche, and romanticism. As a first novel, this is a formidable accomplishment, combining the savage grit of a Pacific War bestseller with all the syrup of a historical bodice-ripper by Belva Plain. Amy Tan and Gabriel Garcia Marquez it is not, but those familiar with Filipino character and archetypes will attest that the novel offers a compelling look into this often-neglected community within the US's modern intercultural mosaic. Summing Up: Recommended. General collections. T. Carolan University of Phoenix, Vancouver


School Library Journal
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Adult/High School-This gripping tale of love, war, indomitable courage, and the struggle for independence will captivate teens and enchant them with Filipino folktales, while providing them a glimpse of another culture. In 1945, as the U.S. fights to regain control of the Philippines from Japan, the Karangalan family huddles with neighbors in the basement of their house outside Manila, hiding from Japanese patrols. Papa says, "When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful." The beasts are the Amerikanos and the Japanese; the Filipinos are the chickens. Isabelle, 17, leaves the cellar to visit a cousin. She is captured by Japanese soldiers and raped, but escapes with the help of a friend. Her brother Alejandro, 13, is stopped and tortured by Japanese soldiers while trying to barter for food, but is released, making his way home empty-handed. Domingo, a guerilla fighter wounded by the Japanese, also makes his way to the cellar, where his wife and son are hiding. The group seeks respite from the horrors of war by telling stories, weaving magical tales of ghosts, family curses, and the spirit world with moral lessons about greed, love, and the importance of family. Finally, the Japanese find their hiding place, and they are imprisoned in a warehouse in Manila. The building catches fire, and in a dramatic climax the Filipinos fight their way out and are rescued by victorious American soldiers.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.