This novel tells the fictional story of a Filipino family trying to survive the Japanese
occupation of the Philippines during World War II. The story is told from the point of view of a
ten-year-old girl, Yvonne Macaraig. The story begins on the fictional island of Ubec which bears
a striking resemblance to the island of Cebu (Ubec is Cebu spelled backwards).
The year is 1941. Yvonne and her cousin Esperanza attend a Catholic primary school.
They are warned by their teacher, a nun named Mother Ignacia, to go to confession
in case the war begins. If they should die during the war with sin on their souls they will be
thrown into Hell, a place of eternal torment.
There are already rumblings of the impending war to come. Yvonne's father is an engineering
professor at the local university. Her mother Angeling is a homemaker.
Her grandfather on her mother's side, Lolo Peping, is also living with them.
The talk within the family is about the possible war. The consensus is that even if the
Japanese attacked the Philippines, the Americans with superior weapons and manpower will easily
defeat them. The father Nando studied in America and he has a high regard for Americans.
grandfather who still remembers the American-Philippines war forty years earlier has the
In December 1941 war finally breaks out. The local Filipinos set fire to the store of a local
Japanese family living in Ubec City (Cebu City). They suspect them of being Japanese spies.
Both the mother and her baby are burned to death. This is the first inkling that World War II will be a
nasty affair. As Christmas 1941 approaches the news about the war gets progressively worse.
The Japanese Army is approaching Manila and the entire American-Filipino Army has been trapped on the
Bataan Peninsula. The Japanese could invade Ubec any time.
With that in mind Yvonne's father decides to flee Ubec for Mindanao. He wants to join up with
the guerilla movement in Mindanao where he feels it will be safer than in Ubec.
To make matters worse Yvonne's mother is pregnant. So Yvonne, her mother, her father, the family cook Laydan,
and their close friends Max and Nida (a couple) decide to leave for Mindanao.
After arriving they start the long arduous journey into the interior of the island where they hope to join up with the
Filipino guerilla movement.
But before they arrive the mother goes into labor. Unfortunately a Japanese patrol is hot on
their trail and they cannot stop. They decide to dismount their horses and hide in the jungle where
Angeling can deliver her baby. The Japanese patrol is close now. So close they can here them
speaking in Japanese. They are the hunted. After a few minutes the Japanese patrol moves on and
the baby is born. But the cord has become wrapped around its neck and the baby is stillborn.
They have a hasty burial of the baby and move on.
They are now searching for the local doctor. They come across his house but the Japanese have
been there first. The doctor's family has been brutally butchered by the Japanese.
The doctor arrives home to find his wife and children hacked to pieces. He becomes hysterical and the men have
to restrain him.
The family joins up with the guerilla movement and they are forced to live in a nipa
hut. The men are away on guerilla missions most of the time. The women are left to tend the camp.
To pass the time Yvonne begins to learn some of the traditional stories from the cook Laydan.
Laydan was a former epic singer who learned many of the myths of the Filipino people.
These stories involve gods and goddesses, heroes and villains, and they take us back to a time before
the Spanish invaded the Philippines and tried to impose Christianity on the populace.
One day Laydan and Yvonne see a strange lady across a stream. She is dressed in strange
clothing and she nods when Laydan looks towards her. We find out later that this is the Rainbow
Goddess Meybuyan who is also the goddess of the underworld. It can only mean one thing, that
Laydan is not long for this world. Sure enough, a few days later Laydan falls ills.
She urges Yvonne to remember the stories that she has taught
her. Then she dies.
The war drags on. A Japanese soldier is captured by the guerillas and brought to the camp.
He says in broken English that he too, has a daughter about Yvonne's age far away in Japan.
The men bring him to their commanding officer and along the way the Japanese prisoner attempts to
escape. Yvonne's father is forced to shoot him.
A high ranking Filipino guerilla leader visits the camp and he urges Yvonne's father
Nando to return to the island of Ubec and work with the local resistance. So the family returns
to Ubec and they set up their camp in the mountains. One day a Japanese plane is shot down
and crashes into the sea just off the coast. The guerillas are able to capture the pilot and one
of his passengers. The passenger turns out to be a high-ranking Japanese general.
The Japanese find out that their general is being held by Nando's group, and they begin to
exact a terrible revenge on the Filipino people. They herd Filipinos into a town square and
massacre them. They vow to continue these actions until the general is released.
So the Filipino guerillas reluctantly agree to release him, but the leader of a rival guerilla group, who
happens to be an American, violently disagrees. The American, Martin Lewis, wants to put the
general on trial and execute him.
Meanwhile, while this is going on, Yvonne becomes the story teller of the group.
She begins to recite the stories that she learned from Laydan to anyone who will listen.
Some of the stories bear a striking resemblance to current events. There is the story of the
Ilianon people who are invaded by the Maguindanao people and forced to fight for their homeland.
Most of the stories involve a hero who is able to defeat the evildoers although at great cost to
his or her own people.
Nando's group agrees to release the Japanese general but they are ambushed on the way to the
meeting place by Martin Lewis' band. The fate of Nando and Max is not known for many weeks.
During this time Yvonne's mother begins to lose her grip on reality. But Yvonne learns to will
her father to be still alive, and somehow it works. A few weeks later Nando and Max are
released after being held in prison by the rival guerilla group.
Shortly after these events the American forces arrive in Ubec. It is November 1944 and
the Japanese will soon be driven completely out of the Philippines. The family returns to Ubec
City to find their former house mostly destroyed. Yvonne's aunt and cousin have managed to survive
but they tell horror stories about having to eat rats to survive. The grandfather was killed
during a bombing raid. The city is a complete shambles.
This novel is well written and smooth. The writing is not overdone and you really get the
sense of what World War II must have been like from the point of view of a child.
Yvonne's family tries to shield her from the horrors of war but the horrors seep in anyway.
Yvonne and the entire Filipino people lost their innocence during this war.
I kept wondering how much of Yvonne's story is autobiography of the author.
Also, the myths were very interesting to me because I had never heard any of them before.
I wonder if there are still epic singers in the Philippines. Overall, I give this book four