Holthe, Tess Uriza 1966–

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Holthe, Tess Uriza 1966–


Born 1966, in San Francisco, CA; daughter of Salvador (a maintenance mechanic for a sweater factory) and Gloria (an elementary school librarian) Uriza; married Jason Holthe. Education: Golden Gate University, B.S.


Home—Northern California.


Author; previously employed as an accountant.


When the Elephants Dance (novel), Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2002.

The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes (short stories), Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.


Tess Uriza Holthe earned a degree in accounting and embarked on a career as a controller before she turned to writing as a hobby to satisfy her creative interests. It took only one writing class to spark the idea that became her debut novel, When the Elephants Dance.

Holthe, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, drew on her family's pastime of storytelling to create her novel. She began with an exercise in her writing class—to write about a myth she knew. She was able to come up with a number of myths and decided they should be put to use. She began writing, and a year and half later her novel was completed. The book's unusual title came out of Holthe's research. She explained in an interview with Michelle Caswell, a writer for Asia Source, that it came from the saying "When the elephants dance, it isn't safe for the chickens," meaning when the Americans and the Japanese (the elephants) are fighting, the Filipinos (the chickens) are not safe. When the Elephants Dance is set in the Philippines during the last week of World War II. Thirteen-year-old Alejandro Karangalan, his family, and some of his friends hide out in their cellar while U.S. and Japanese troops fight overhead. Between dangerous forays outside the cellar, they pass the time and boost their courage by telling stories.

Reviewing the novel for Booklist, Kristine Huntley observed, "Holthe expertly weaves the mystical stories of the characters with the harsh reality of war to create a vivid, gorgeous novel." School Library Journal critic Molly Connally deemed it a "gripping tale of love, war, indomitable courage, and the struggle for independence." Writing in Library Journal, David W. Henderson called the book "an impressive debut, with well-drawn characterizations and a plot that readily captures and holds the reader's interest." "The stories are richly lyrical," wrote Judith Warner in the Washington Post, "fascinating in the way they combine the symbols of Christianity … with traditional island myth. Holthe is at her best when she plays with the mixed religious beliefs, languages and cultures that make up Filipino identity." Although Lynne Perri in USA Today took issue with the book's "tidy ending," she noted that "the myths create a magical inner layer to the novel," which she called "an ambitious book, painful to read because of the unimaginable acts committed during the war, but hard to put down." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly summed up the novel as a "beautiful, harsh war story" in which Holthe "presents personal, pointed fragments that clearly demonstrate history's cultural and personal fallout."

Holthe's second book, The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes, is a collection of linked short stories set in the south of France. The key to the stories is the death of "Chazz Jorgensen," wrote Patrick Sullivan in Library Journal, "the well-meaning but psychologically tormented son of an American millionaire." Jorgensen is killed in a traffic accident after having left the train—hence the title of the book. "He has been physically running away from two train hustlers," explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "but on a deeper level he has been running from his fear that his wife Claudette is about to end their marriage." The remaining stories deal with the impact that Jorgensen's death has on a variety of characters, including the hustlers who were pursuing Jorgensen, their younger brother and the girl with whom he falls in love, and (at the end) Jorgensen's widow Claudette—who had never intended to leave her husband, but who tries to bond with him by riding the same train he rode on the day he died: the 5:45 to Cannes. "Uriza Holthe's brilliant collection of stories," Kristine Huntley declared in her Booklist review, "takes readers on a speeding train ride through the fascinating lives of her nuanced characters." The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes, stated a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "provides a trove of pleasures and will have fans looking forward to the next."

Commenting on her writing process in an interview for Random House, Holthe said: "For me, writing is like building a house. I put everything down on paper, regardless of how it sounds, and that is the foundation. With my second draft, I fill the walls with sheet rock, and with my third I paint the house. The final revision, during which I tweak a few words and images, is like buying furniture to fill the house."



Booklist, November 15, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of When the Elephants Dance, p. 554; March 1, 2007, Kristine Huntley, review of The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes, p. 65.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2007, review of The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes.

Library Journal, December, 2001, David W. Henderson, review of When the Elephants Dance, p. 172; April 1, 2007, Patrick Sullivan, review of The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes, p. 85.

Newsbreak Weekly, February 20, 2002, Gemma Nemenzo, "Living a Writer's Dream."

New York Times Book Review, March 17, 2002, review of When the Elephants Dance, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, December 24, 2001, review of When the Elephants Dance, pp. 43-44; March 5, 2007, review of The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes, p. 40.

School Library Journal, April, 2002, Molly Connally, review of When the Elephants Dance, pp. 185-186.

USA Today, March 6, 2002, Lynne Perri, "Hidden Truths in Holthe's Dance."

Washington Post, January 20, 2002, Judith Warner, "Notes from Underground," review of When the Elephants Dance, p. T06.


Asia Source,http://www.asiasource.org/ (January 19, 2008), "When the Elephants Dance: An Interview with Tess Uriza Holthe."

Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (January 19, 2008), "A Conversation with Tess Uriza Holthe."

Tess Uriza Holthe Home Page,http://www.tessurizaholthe.com (January 19, 2008).

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