April 2021 Indie Next List
“The Elephant of Belfast is a gem of historical fiction involving a young female zookeeper and an elephant during the Belfast bombings in 1941. The beautiful writing weaves an intricate balance between themes of loss, identity, and resilience during a difficult time. A wonderful book for those who need an element of surprise and who believe the love between animals and humans can make us whole.”
— Kathy Detwiler, Buttonwood Books and Toys, Cohasset, MA
Inspired by true events, this vivid and moving story of a young woman zookeeper and the elephant she's compelled to protect through the German blitz of Belfast during WWll speaks to not only the tragedy of the times, but also to the ongoing sectarian tensions that still exist in Northern Ireland today--perfect for readers of historical and literary fiction alike.
Belfast, October 1940. Twenty-year-old zookeeper Hettie Quin arrives at the city docks in time to meet her new charge: an orphaned three-year-old Indian elephant named Violet. As Violet adjusts to her new solitary life in captivity and Hettie mourns the recent loss of her sister and the abandonment of her father, new storm clouds gather. A world war rages, threatening a city already reeling from escalating tensions between British Loyalists and those fighting for a free and unified Ireland.
The relative peace is shattered by air-raid sirens on the evening of Easter Tuesday 1941. Over the course of the next five hours, hundreds of bombs rain down upon Belfast, claiming almost a thousand lives and decimating the city. Dodging the debris and carnage of the Luftwaffe attack, Hettie runs to the zoo to make sure that Violet is unharmed. The harrowing ordeal and ensuing aftermath set the pair on a surprising path that highlights the indelible, singular bond that often brings mankind and animals together during horrifying times.
Inspired by a largely forgotten chapter of World War II, S. Kirk Walsh deftly renders the changing relationship between Hettie and Violet, and their growing dependence on each other for survival and solace. The Elephant of Belfast is a complicated and beguiling portrait of hope and resilience--and how love can sustain us during the darkest moments of our lives.