When the Elephants Dance

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When the Elephants Dance is a novel authored by Tess Uriza Holthe published by Penguin Books in 2003. It is about a family hiding from the Japanese soldiers. Set in the last year of the Japanese Occupation, the novel captures the experience of terror and despair during war-time while at the same time exploring the possibilities of hope and love.

The title is derived from the following passage in the novel:

"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."


  • Alejandro Karangalan- a thirteen-year-old boy (first narrator)
  • Isabelle Karangalan- Alejandro's older sister (second narrator)
  • Domingo Matapang- a guerilla commander (third narrator)
  • Feliciano- a "collaborator"
  • Yukino Yoshi- a Japanese Filipino citizen, mother
  • Aling Ana
  • Mang Pedro
  • Tay Fredrico- an old Spaniard


As the Second World War rages on, and the Japanese remain the cruel occupants of the Philippines, a group of villagers hide in a cellar under the Karangalan family's house in Manila. As Alejandro and his family seek the safety of the cellar, other Filipinos who are not as lucky suffer torture in the hands of the Japanese soldiers. To escape from the harrowing situation they are in, the villagers tell stories to each other. The magical and mythical stories, such as those of Aling Ana, Mang Pedro and Tay Fredrico not only divert the group but also teach them to endure with courage and hope.

External Links


  • Holthe, Tess Uriza. When the Elephants Dance. New York, United States of America: Penguin Books, 2003.



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