Excerpt from When The Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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When The Elephants Dance

by Tess Uriza Holthe

When The Elephants Dance
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2002, 368 pages
    Jul 2003, 368 pages

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There are barricades and checkpoints every two kilometers. At these spots the Japanese stand with bayonets and their special police, the Kempeitai. There are Filipinos who stand with them called Makapilis. It is short for Makabayang Pilipino, which means "our fellow countrymen." The Makapili are Japanese sympathizers. They are pro-Asian and do not want the Amerikanos to come back. The Makapilis help the Kempeitai hunt for guerrillas. Papa calls the Makapili cowards because they hide behind cloth masks. One finger from them and a Filipino can be sentenced to death. They will turn in their countrymen without hesitation. The Japanese have poisoned our minds against one another.

Amerikano bombers fly in a V shape above. We watch their silver underbellies, ripe with strength.

"This way," I tell my brother.

"V for victory. Go, Joe!" Roderick shouts with fist raised.

"Quiet," I tell him. We hurry, crouching low to the ground, ready to dive. The ground shakes and the sky rumbles from their passing. My head spins from our quick movements. I steady myself against a tree. Roderick is the same way. We have grown much weaker in the last month from lack of food. There is no food to be found. Any supply trucks are ambushed by the guerrillas. It was better when we had the cow; at least we had milk. Papa worked so hard not to slaughter her, only to have someone steal her when we slept.

"We must not move so fast. Stay close," I tell Roderick.

"Papa said to stay away from the city," he protests.

"I know." I keep moving, and he follows as always.

We walk south toward Manila.

"Papa told us not to go toward the city." Roderick catches up to me. He pulls my arm in frustration.

"It is okay," I tell him.

From behind comes the sound of tanks approaching. We stop arguing and jump into a banana grove. Five Amerikano tanks, followed by fifty soldiers on foot. We come out of our hiding place. A few of the soldiers look our way.

"Tommy guns," I breathe.

"And carbines," Roderick adds, shooting the trees with imaginary bullets. "But where are the big guns that have been shaking our house?"

"Already in Manila. Come. We will follow behind."

Roderick stares at me.

My stomach twists from hunger. Already my brow is dripping with sweat from the heat, and the dust is caught in my throat. I take my palm and swipe it across my eyes. "We have to find food. Papa's sickness is getting worse. Do you want to go back? Why don't you go back." I leave him standing with his arms crossed.

He follows. "Why do they not bury her?"

"Who?" I ask, looking at the scattered bodies. It is difficult to see whom the faces once belonged to.

"Mrs. Del Rosario."

"For what? She is gone."

"I hope someone buries me," Roderick says.

I look at my brother. "Do not say that. Make the sign of the cross." He does so. His blue shirt is too large. The collar falls over his shoulder, and I can see his skin stretched over the bones.

"Alejandro?" He holds my gaze.


"Will that happen to us?"

Excerpted from When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe Copyright 2002 by Tess Uriza Holthe. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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