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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. In October 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. In October 1940, twenty-year-old zookeeper Hettie Quin meets Violet, a three-year-old elephant arriving at the Belfast docks from Ceylon. Soon she becomes Violet's dedicated zookeeper at the Bellevue Zoo. In mourning for the recent loss of her sister and the abandonment of her father, she finds contentment in her relationship with Violet and her fellow zookeepers. Six months later, in April 1941, Belfast is attacked. One evening, over five hours, 674 bombs are dropped and almost a thousand civilians are killed. During the bombings, Hettie Quin fights to save her elephant and survive the destruction and escalating sectarian unrest of the city. Inspired by the life of Denise Austin, S. Kirk Walsh deftly renders the changing relationship between Hettie and her young charge, and their growing dependence on each other for survival and solace. The Elephant of Belfast is a complicated portrait of love, loss, grief, and resilience.


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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. In October 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. In October 1940, twenty-year-old zookeeper Hettie Quin meets Violet, a three-year-old elephant arriving at the Belfast docks from Ceylon. Soon she becomes Violet's dedicated zookeeper at the Bellevue Zoo. In mourning for the recent loss of her sister and the abandonment of her father, she finds contentment in her relationship with Violet and her fellow zookeepers. Six months later, in April 1941, Belfast is attacked. One evening, over five hours, 674 bombs are dropped and almost a thousand civilians are killed. During the bombings, Hettie Quin fights to save her elephant and survive the destruction and escalating sectarian unrest of the city. Inspired by the life of Denise Austin, S. Kirk Walsh deftly renders the changing relationship between Hettie and her young charge, and their growing dependence on each other for survival and solace. The Elephant of Belfast is a complicated portrait of love, loss, grief, and resilience.

30 review for The Elephant of Belfast

  1. 4 out of 5

    Annette

    Inspired by true story of Denise Weston Austin. So called the “elephant angel.” Belfast, N Ireland, 1940. An orphaned elephant leaves an island of Ceylon to make a new home at Bellevue Zoo. At the docks, Hettie Quin, zookeeper, meets a three-year-old elephant named Violet. Violet becomes Hattie’s favorite charge. They bond. Hattie cares for Violet. And Violet trusts Hettie. When bombs fall on Belfast and the city becomes an inferno, people rush to shelters and Hettie runs to the zoo where animals Inspired by true story of Denise Weston Austin. So called the “elephant angel.” Belfast, N Ireland, 1940. An orphaned elephant leaves an island of Ceylon to make a new home at Bellevue Zoo. At the docks, Hettie Quin, zookeeper, meets a three-year-old elephant named Violet. Violet becomes Hattie’s favorite charge. They bond. Hattie cares for Violet. And Violet trusts Hettie. When bombs fall on Belfast and the city becomes an inferno, people rush to shelters and Hettie runs to the zoo where animals are scared and agitated. Hattie calms Violet. What is special about this story is the warmness created from the very first pages between Hattie and Violet. But there is much more to the story. I’d say majority of the story is character development of Hettie, her family, friends and others. It makes the story very dynamic. And it is a very interesting story. I warmed up to the main character right away. After losing her sister and the abandonment of her father, she finds solace in caring for the young elephant. She feels more comfortable with the animals than people. She works hard to be the first female zookeeper. It was very interesting to get a glimpse at people’s minds. How some Irelanders viewed Nazi. They wanted to be rid of Brits for good from Northern Ireland, thus they’d welcome Germans with open arms. Also, the rationing of food affecting not only humans, but also the animals at the zoo. And how that further affected some decisions in handling the animals at the zoo. When the city is bombed, you can see the massive destruction as buildings are turned to rubble. You can feel the helplessness, when trying to find someone who is missing. And the heart-wrenching effects on animals at the zoo. The rescue efforts of Violet kept me on edge. Richly imagined and vividly presented. There is so much deepness and liveliness in descriptions. Thus, resulting in a very vibrant story with characters you deeply care for and prose you greatly enjoy. P.S. This brief article gives an inspiration behind many stories and a movie: http://www.belfastzoo.co.uk/about-us/... Source: ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karren Sandercock

    Hettie Quin is twenty, she works at Bellevue Zoo in Belfast, where she feeds the animals and cleans out their cages. Six months ago her family suffered a terrible tragedy, her sister Anna passed way, her father Thomas left and her mother Rose is now terribly depressed. Working at the zoo gives Hettie a much needed break from her family’s problems and she loves her job. October 1940. The Christie siblings own Bellevue Zoo, they bought a three year old Asian elephant called Violet and she's arrived Hettie Quin is twenty, she works at Bellevue Zoo in Belfast, where she feeds the animals and cleans out their cages. Six months ago her family suffered a terrible tragedy, her sister Anna passed way, her father Thomas left and her mother Rose is now terribly depressed. Working at the zoo gives Hettie a much needed break from her family’s problems and she loves her job. October 1940. The Christie siblings own Bellevue Zoo, they bought a three year old Asian elephant called Violet and she's arrived at Belfast docks. Getting an elephant off a ship isn’t easy, a crane is needed and then they walk Violet through the streets of Belfast to the zoo. This creates a lot of interest, makes the local papers and it’s a real feel good story. Unlike England, Ireland hadn’t been bombed by Germans and they might escape the Blitz? Some members of the IRA believe Ireland might be better off being invaded by the Germans and a way of finally getting rid of the British? April 1941. Belfast residents are woken up in the middle of the night, it’s not a false alarm and the city is being bombed. The Germans drop almost 700 bombs in five hours, fires are burning all over the city, the water supply’s been damaged, and hundreds of people have been injured and thousands killed. Hettie’s worried about Violet, leaving her mum at home, she rushes to the zoo to make sure she’s alright and the next day she’s horrified by some of the decisions made by Belfast's authorities. Inspired by the life of Denise Austin, The Elephant of Belfast looks at the inspiriting relationship between zookeeper Hettie and Violet the Asian elephant during WW II. At such a dangerous and uncertain time Hettie overcame so many difficulties and obstacles to save Violet, to keep her safe and it’s an incredibly moving and uplifting story. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, its absolutely brilliant and five stars from me. https://karrenreadsbooks.blogspot.com/

  3. 5 out of 5

    Literary Redhead

    “And I say, how lucky I was. I was only buried alive a few hours, you know.” — Eithne O’Connor, Belfast Blitz survivor I was so moved by THE ELEPHANT OF BELFAST! What a thrilling narrative and a totally different twist on WWII novels of late. Young zookeeper Hettie takes charge of Violet’s care when the elephant arrives from Ceylon to the Belfast docks. Each needs the other, with Hettie already suffering family loss and Violet needing comfort far from home. As the war nears, precautions are taken “And I say, how lucky I was. I was only buried alive a few hours, you know.” — Eithne O’Connor, Belfast Blitz survivor I was so moved by THE ELEPHANT OF BELFAST! What a thrilling narrative and a totally different twist on WWII novels of late. Young zookeeper Hettie takes charge of Violet’s care when the elephant arrives from Ceylon to the Belfast docks. Each needs the other, with Hettie already suffering family loss and Violet needing comfort far from home. As the war nears, precautions are taken by the city, but none are enough when the Nazis blitz Belfast and its zoo on Easter Tuesday 1941. Nearly 675 bombs were unleashed, killing 1,000 residents and leaving half the city homeless. Oh my heart! As bombs fell, Hettie ran to the zoo to check on Violet. What she heard was an unnerving din of terrified creatures: “The calls of the animals soared into a vortex of cries and screams while the Germans continued to bomb Belfast. All of it was breaking upon Hettie—the horror, the sadness, the loss—at once.” A tale both heartbreaking and inspiring, THE ELEPHANT OF BELFAST is based on the true story of the “Elephant Angel,” Belfast’s zookeeper Denise Austin, who hid Sheila the pachyderm at her home during the bombing raids. What courage, what friendship, and what a stellar read! 5 of 5 Stars Pub Date 06 Apr 2021 #TheElephantofBelfast #NetGalley Thanks to the author, Counterpoint Press, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    When irrational and inhumane things happen in this world—as they surely did during the Nazi siege on Belfast—we find connections in surprising and fulfilling ways. Inspired by the life of Denise Austin, Hettie Quin, barely out of her teens, is a young woman who has already experienced more than her fair share of sorrow. Her scoundrel father has abandoned the family, her older sister Anna has died in childbirth, and her mother spends too much time in bed under the shadow of depression. Outside her When irrational and inhumane things happen in this world—as they surely did during the Nazi siege on Belfast—we find connections in surprising and fulfilling ways. Inspired by the life of Denise Austin, Hettie Quin, barely out of her teens, is a young woman who has already experienced more than her fair share of sorrow. Her scoundrel father has abandoned the family, her older sister Anna has died in childbirth, and her mother spends too much time in bed under the shadow of depression. Outside her personal world, the rumors of an imminent Nazi attack pervade everyone’s thoughts. But Hettie has her dreams: to become one of the world’s first female zookeepers. That dream takes a step forward when she is charged with caring for a three-year-old elephant named Violet, displaced from Ceylon. For this young woman in mourning, Violet gives her life purpose and meaning. Each, in her own way, is alone and needing solace from the other. And so it goes until Belfast is truly attacked and Violet’s very survival—and perhaps Hettie’s as well—is at stake. Hettie then must take extraordinary measures to get her out of harm’s way and in doing so, save a part of what is good and true and real. This is a story of loss and resilience and it may sound as if it’s been done a million times before. Trust me, it hasn’t. Author S. Kirk Walsh has obviously done her homework about the tensions in Belfast – the Protestants vs. the Catholics, Ireland vs. its enemies, and what it was like to operate a zoo in the midst of sheer chaos. It authentically creates a window into a coming-of-age story when those on the cusp of adulthood had to grow up fast. Hettie makes some bewildering choices, particularly in men, but given the time and circumstances and her mourning state, none of them are all that surprising. At its core, this is a love story about the human-animal connection and in places, it is heartbreaking. Violet is portrayed in an authentic way (put another way, she is depicted as an elephant, not a human).On a personal note, as someone who has been on a photo safari in Kenya, I learned about the immense capacity of elephants to bond and to mourn. It is a testament that we are not the only justified beings on this planet. A big thanks to Counterpoint Press for an advance reader’s galley in exchange for a most decidedly honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sydney Long

    For anyone who has a special connection with animals, this is a book for you. Hettie is the only female zookeeper at the Belfast zoo in 1940. As Europe braces for war, the zoo prepares for the arrival of its newest animal, Violet, a three year old elephant. Hettie and Violet soon build a bond, one that joins them as family when Hettie loses her own family. When the bombs start falling, keeping Violet safe is all that matters to Hettie. In many ways they are able save each other. As an animal perso For anyone who has a special connection with animals, this is a book for you. Hettie is the only female zookeeper at the Belfast zoo in 1940. As Europe braces for war, the zoo prepares for the arrival of its newest animal, Violet, a three year old elephant. Hettie and Violet soon build a bond, one that joins them as family when Hettie loses her own family. When the bombs start falling, keeping Violet safe is all that matters to Hettie. In many ways they are able save each other. As an animal person, I immediately identified with Hettie. Some people just have a better rapport with animals than they do people and there’s nothing like the unconditional love from an animal. This book is quite emotional and there were parts that I definitely teared up at but i also admire Hettie’s strength, bravery and compassion. Thank you NetGalley and s Kirk Walsh for the arc. I loved everything about this Page turner.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alex Curtis

    This book took awhile for me to read because it was just so exquisite.I wanted to savor every word and take it in. I Loved that it was inspired by true story of Denise Weston Austin. She was called the “elephant angel.” I loved her and reading about a woman who dealt with such cataclysmic upbringing. this book is resplendent and will be in my top 10 books of the year. Please do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stefani

    There are so many beautiful things about this book, most of all the relationship between Hettie, a Belfast zoo's first female zookeeper, and an elephant named Violet. The novel is set during the Belfast Blitz and was so vividly rendered that I felt transported to this world where a young woman and her elephant try to hold each other up while German bombs are going off all around them. The events of this novel are grueling but so brilliantly juxtaposed with triumphant characters who offer hope at There are so many beautiful things about this book, most of all the relationship between Hettie, a Belfast zoo's first female zookeeper, and an elephant named Violet. The novel is set during the Belfast Blitz and was so vividly rendered that I felt transported to this world where a young woman and her elephant try to hold each other up while German bombs are going off all around them. The events of this novel are grueling but so brilliantly juxtaposed with triumphant characters who offer hope at every turn. It's rich with detail in scenes that sweep through life's most dramatic and mundane moments at once: from a glamorous ball, through the care and feeding of zoo animals, through death and destruction, and on to love and more importantly, eternal friendship. You will not be able to put this book down, even after you've finished it. Three days after finishing The Elephant of Belfast, I can't stop thinking about the characters, both human and animal, and how lucky I was to read an advanced copy of S. Kirk Walsh's debut novel. I highly recommend you preorder your copy, set for release on April 6, 2021.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    The Elephant of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh is an excellent WWII historical fiction that has it all: HF, narrative inspired by true events, wonderfully drawn-out characters, action, suspense, romance, and amazing human/animal bonds that will bring tears to any eye. Such an amazing read. This book takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland during WWII. The instability there was palpable despite the country’s attempts at trying to stay out of the crossfire. The external and internal conflicts taking ov The Elephant of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh is an excellent WWII historical fiction that has it all: HF, narrative inspired by true events, wonderfully drawn-out characters, action, suspense, romance, and amazing human/animal bonds that will bring tears to any eye. Such an amazing read. This book takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland during WWII. The instability there was palpable despite the country’s attempts at trying to stay out of the crossfire. The external and internal conflicts taking over the region were well documented and weaved wonderfully within the book. It was fascinating to see how the country’s position and actions were during this war, as well as the overall citizens’ feelings on not only the war itself, but also their take on the Nazis and British forces as well. It really drew me in to see a different opinion on such matters. The main character, Hettie Quin, is a wonderfully depicted young woman. As the first female zookeeper at Bellevue Zoo, she has responsibilities that are far beyond her young years. Despite the personal losses in regards to her family, she has such love, devotion, and care to give. The bond she forms with the young elephant, Violet, who becomes her charge at the zoo is stunning, instant, and immediately heartwarming. The selflessness that she exhibits in regards to Violet’s survival as well as other members of the zoo is so brave and fearless. The relationship that Violet and Hettie demonstrate will warm even the frostiest of hearts. There were some difficult passages in regards to some of the difficult decisions and atrocities that occurred to the people of Belfast, the zoo, and the animals within were difficult and crushing to read. The heroes that emerged from within the rubble are inspirational. I think the part I loved the most (other then the stunning bond between Hettie and Violet), is that the narrative is inspired by true events and people. This book has already encouraged me to find out even more about Denise Weston Austin. I love it when I enjoy a book but also find out that it is based on true people and events. That is what historical fiction should be. 5/5 stars Thank you NetGalley and Counterpoint Press for this stunning arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion. I am posting this review to my GR, Instagram, and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 4/6/21.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Darcey Tomasino

    I received an ARC of this novel through Net Galley. The opinions expressed are my own. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel set during WWII in Belfast. The main character, Hettie, has experienced tremendous loss and chosen to throw herself into her work at the zoo, hoping to distract herself from her sister's death, her father's abandonment, and her mother's detachment. When baby elephant Violet arrives, Hettie sees her opportunity to heal. As she and Violet form a bond, Hettie begins to heal. She fin I received an ARC of this novel through Net Galley. The opinions expressed are my own. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel set during WWII in Belfast. The main character, Hettie, has experienced tremendous loss and chosen to throw herself into her work at the zoo, hoping to distract herself from her sister's death, her father's abandonment, and her mother's detachment. When baby elephant Violet arrives, Hettie sees her opportunity to heal. As she and Violet form a bond, Hettie begins to heal. She finds friendship and love, right along with the pain that love can bring. Through it all, Violet is there, and the two thrive. When the German blitz intensifies, the people of Belfast fear that the zoo animals will escape, leading to a scene so horrific that I was sobbing. But Hettie and Violet persevere. Hettie's character is loosely based on Denise Austin, who saved a young elephant during the war by bringing it to her home each night before the bombing began. In The Elephant of Belfast, S. Kirk Walsh has created a beautiful story of resilience and hope during a dark chapter of the past.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dalia Azim

    I was lucky enough to read a galley of this wonderful novel. It is well researched and transporting and deeply character driven, which is the formula for a perfect novel in my view. I keep thinking about this story; it stays with you well beyond the page and really makes you think about the ravages of war and how people persevere amid violent circumstances. This is such a powerful book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Germano

    I enjoyed reading a galley of THE ELEPHANT OF BELFAST. I fell in love with Hettie and Violet-and what they encounter together from the opening scene to the end of the novel. This is a story about a young woman and a young elephant, but also so much more: There is a sweetness and a bitterness and a heartbreak found in many different places : the zoo (of course!), the bustling of St. George's market, the dance floor of the Floral Hall, the famous Belfast shipyards (where the Titanic was built) and I enjoyed reading a galley of THE ELEPHANT OF BELFAST. I fell in love with Hettie and Violet-and what they encounter together from the opening scene to the end of the novel. This is a story about a young woman and a young elephant, but also so much more: There is a sweetness and a bitterness and a heartbreak found in many different places : the zoo (of course!), the bustling of St. George's market, the dance floor of the Floral Hall, the famous Belfast shipyards (where the Titanic was built) and the Antrim Road. Toward the end of the novel Hettie says to herself, "We are all orphans." This moment for me spoke a universal truth that I had never encountered before in fiction or non-fiction. As the pandemic has taught us, we are all orphans in one way or another. We all lose - and gain- parts of ourselves through life's defining experiences. I learned valuable lessons watching Hettie and Violet save each other during a most difficult period. I am better for having read this story, with its big heart , tenderness and unexpected knowingness.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    Thank you to NetGalley, Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press for this advance copy. My unbiased review is freely given. The Elephant of Belfast tells of a scary time for Belfast during WWII. A young elephant, Violet, takes center stage with her young handler, Hettie, which is inspired by a true story which makes this quite special. The story of Hattie’s devotion to Violet, and her persistence and empathy to care for her and keep her safe is amazing. It’s a moving story intertwining Thank you to NetGalley, Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press for this advance copy. My unbiased review is freely given. The Elephant of Belfast tells of a scary time for Belfast during WWII. A young elephant, Violet, takes center stage with her young handler, Hettie, which is inspired by a true story which makes this quite special. The story of Hattie’s devotion to Violet, and her persistence and empathy to care for her and keep her safe is amazing. It’s a moving story intertwining life, love and loss from a perspective not often considered in the ravages of WWII. This book has an emotional pull presented with a sensitive and tender touch. Some parts are disturbing and dark, but there’s no denying it was a dark time in history. The story is perfectly tuned into the overwhelming feeling of the time, and will give the reader much to think about after finishing. A remarkable debut effort.

  13. 5 out of 5

    theliterateleprechaun

    ‘The Elephant of Belfast’ by S. Kirk Walsh to be published April 6, 2021, is a captivating and heartbreaking story based on a true account. Set in Belfast during the Blitz in April 1941, it’s the tale of a young female zookeeper’s courage and devotion to saving an Indian elephant in her care. From the moment Violet, a 3-year-old and 3411-pound orphan arrives at the Harland and Wolfe Shipyards in Belfast, Hettie Quin is determined to become her caregiver. In an effort to cope with pain and loss, ‘The Elephant of Belfast’ by S. Kirk Walsh to be published April 6, 2021, is a captivating and heartbreaking story based on a true account. Set in Belfast during the Blitz in April 1941, it’s the tale of a young female zookeeper’s courage and devotion to saving an Indian elephant in her care. From the moment Violet, a 3-year-old and 3411-pound orphan arrives at the Harland and Wolfe Shipyards in Belfast, Hettie Quin is determined to become her caregiver. In an effort to cope with pain and loss, Hettie has asked for full-time work from her boss, Mr. Christie, at the Bellevue Zoo. Willing to take a chance on a female zookeeper after many of his male employees leave for war, Mr. Christie watches the growing dependence between Hettie and Violet as they rely on each other for survival and solace. One night in April 1941, 674 bombs are dropped on Belfast over a 5-hour period and Hettie is desperate to do whatever she can to save Violet. This is more than just a story about a girl and an elephant. It’s about life in Belfast during the Blitz and a young girl’s coming of age, intertwined with a complicated story about love, loss, grief and resilience. As you’d expect from any story set in Belfast at this time, there’s IRA involvement showcasing the desire to unite Ireland. I was born in Belfast and loved reading about street names and places I know about, in addition to the Irish expressions I’d grown up using. This is a well-researched book based on the life of Denise Austin brought to remembrance and celebrated for the 75th anniversary of the Belfast Zoo. Thanks to S. Kirk Walsh, Counterpoint Press and Netgalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

  14. 4 out of 5

    S. Kirk Walsh

    Hope everyone enjoys THE ELEPHANT OF BELFAST. I spent a number of years working on this novel--and look forward to hearing from readers. Thank you for spending time with Hettie and Violet.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Donnelly

    I was giddy when I receive an advanced reader’s copy of S. Kirk Walsh’s debut novel, ‘The Elephant of Belfast’. From the first sentence where we’re introduced to a young zookeeper and her new elephant charge, I was hooked on this engaging story of love and betrayal in wartime Northern Ireland. The drama and passion plays out in the daily adventures of our heroine’s remarkable life, as she attempts to navigate complicated relationships with family, friends, and animals in the zoo. Walsh’s cinemat I was giddy when I receive an advanced reader’s copy of S. Kirk Walsh’s debut novel, ‘The Elephant of Belfast’. From the first sentence where we’re introduced to a young zookeeper and her new elephant charge, I was hooked on this engaging story of love and betrayal in wartime Northern Ireland. The drama and passion plays out in the daily adventures of our heroine’s remarkable life, as she attempts to navigate complicated relationships with family, friends, and animals in the zoo. Walsh’s cinematic depiction of Belfast’s people and places is extraordinarily beautiful. The Elephant of Belfast is thoughtfully crafted and a delightful read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anjana

    This book was not like the recent others I have read on this theme. It is historical fiction based on actual facts and WWII in Belfast. Our lead protagonist is Hettie ( the eponymous zookeeper), a girl grieving losses in her family and wanting to further her career at the Zoo that she works in. There is a lot to unpack in the narrative: We have Hettie trying to find her place in the world, sort out her feelings for her mother and their life, figure out how to survive in such a turbulent time and This book was not like the recent others I have read on this theme. It is historical fiction based on actual facts and WWII in Belfast. Our lead protagonist is Hettie ( the eponymous zookeeper), a girl grieving losses in her family and wanting to further her career at the Zoo that she works in. There is a lot to unpack in the narrative: We have Hettie trying to find her place in the world, sort out her feelings for her mother and their life, figure out how to survive in such a turbulent time and finally (and unfortunately, a lot of time is devoted to this), her love life. The first and last may seem to be the same topic, but they are dealt with differently, and thus the distinction arose in my mind. I am not claiming that a girl on the cusp of womanhood and starting to live her own life would not have her mind occupied with boys and her feelings for those around her, but in this case, the way it was presented was not very palatable( to me), it took away from the emotional complexities of the rest of her life. It had some heart-rending moments when it came to the animals. The care of them did grab my attention. The Zoo's animals, the man in charge of the Zoo and the actual owner all drift in and out of the story, and each has a pretty compelling role that is not explored to the extent I hoped. It is not a bad story by any means; I just hoped for a different focus. The story of a struggling female zookeeper would have been way more to my taste than of a girl trying to figure out who she is attracted to and why. It is set in difficult times, and people's conflicting thought processes in the same town were fascinating. I did learn something about a new place in a given time in history, it was easy reading for the most part, and I am glad I picked it up. I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    A novel inspired by actual events. The novel differs quite a bit from the story of "our elephant angel" posted on the Belfast Zoo website, see www.belfastzoo.co.uk or specifically www.belfastzoo.co.uk/about-us/zoo-his... It both cases the elephant followed the only female zookeeper employed at the Belfast Zoo home in the evening. The elephant slept in the backyard during WWII bombings by the Nazis. Over the years and with the current "work from home" lifestyle thanks to the covid virus, I've brou A novel inspired by actual events. The novel differs quite a bit from the story of "our elephant angel" posted on the Belfast Zoo website, see www.belfastzoo.co.uk or specifically www.belfastzoo.co.uk/about-us/zoo-his... It both cases the elephant followed the only female zookeeper employed at the Belfast Zoo home in the evening. The elephant slept in the backyard during WWII bombings by the Nazis. Over the years and with the current "work from home" lifestyle thanks to the covid virus, I've brought home my share of work ... but never an elephant! The characters in the The Elephant of Belfast book were well developed. I really felt a deep connection with them that just grew as I read the book. I really fell in love with many/most of the characters. A really great book! Thank you NetGalley, the publisher (Counterpoint Press) and the author/S. Kirk Walsh for the opportunity to read the advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Publication date is 06 April 2021. Filing on best of 2021 bookshelf.

  18. 4 out of 5

    John T

    Kirk Walsh's Elephant of Belfast has many virtues. First of all, EOB is a compelling read. My wife Melba and I struggled for possession of our one copy and shared our admiration for the purity and sweetness and bitterness of the story and the lucidly delineated characters. Each of them, animal and human, evolved into credible, memorable, fleshed out beings. And Belfast itself is as much a character as the mammals. Walsh builds a neighborhood. We travel Belfast with girl and elephant and believe Kirk Walsh's Elephant of Belfast has many virtues. First of all, EOB is a compelling read. My wife Melba and I struggled for possession of our one copy and shared our admiration for the purity and sweetness and bitterness of the story and the lucidly delineated characters. Each of them, animal and human, evolved into credible, memorable, fleshed out beings. And Belfast itself is as much a character as the mammals. Walsh builds a neighborhood. We travel Belfast with girl and elephant and believe it. Yes, there's the war and Belfast's Blitz, the IRA and its manipulations, family disintegration, bureaucratic terror. None of these formidable barriers distract from the enduring relationship between the girl and the elephant. They save each other. There is so much to this memorable story, so well told. Thank you Kirk Walsh for the ultimate Covid Era novel.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura Peterson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I received this ARC from Netgalley and was excited to dive into this story. Taking place in Northern Ireland, during the WWII bombings, young female zookeeper, Hettie, cares for a new elephant at the zoo, Violet. Hettie throws all of her attention and focus into caring for Violet, to distract herself from the loss she has recently experienced in her own life. She rescues Violet from a horrible fate, and feels as though she had been saved as well. I enjoyed this book very much, I felt that it was a I received this ARC from Netgalley and was excited to dive into this story. Taking place in Northern Ireland, during the WWII bombings, young female zookeeper, Hettie, cares for a new elephant at the zoo, Violet. Hettie throws all of her attention and focus into caring for Violet, to distract herself from the loss she has recently experienced in her own life. She rescues Violet from a horrible fate, and feels as though she had been saved as well. I enjoyed this book very much, I felt that it was a pretty quick read and it held alot of historical information I found fascinating in bringing this story to life. TW: for animal lovers out there, there are scenes depicted of animals being killed that were tough to read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Felicia *bookscatsandwine*

    The Elephant of Belfast is a debut novel for S Kirk Walsh based on true events in Belfast during the Second World War. 💜 This story was touching to say the least. I found Hettie's love for animals truly moving, and her relationship with her elephant Violet is beautiful. ❤️ I tend to really enjoy novels when I know they are based on true events. I'm not sure why, but as soon as I know there's some truth in there, I am so much more interested. The harsh realities of WWII and the IRA in Belfast were so The Elephant of Belfast is a debut novel for S Kirk Walsh based on true events in Belfast during the Second World War. 💜 This story was touching to say the least. I found Hettie's love for animals truly moving, and her relationship with her elephant Violet is beautiful. ❤️ I tend to really enjoy novels when I know they are based on true events. I'm not sure why, but as soon as I know there's some truth in there, I am so much more interested. The harsh realities of WWII and the IRA in Belfast were so tragic to read about. I feel like I've learned a lot. 🖤 As much as I enjoy the story, there were some entire passages I had to skip over. I'm way too much of an animal lover to read anything sad about them, and some scenes were downright disturbing. I get why these scenes have to exist, but it was too much for me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chris Hyams

    I tore through The Elephant of Belfast in 24 hours. It's beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring all at once. The events of the book are from another time and another place, but reading it now in the midst of our global shared suffering brought another layer of emotional and spiritual depth. It feels deeply personal and vital. I tore through The Elephant of Belfast in 24 hours. It's beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring all at once. The events of the book are from another time and another place, but reading it now in the midst of our global shared suffering brought another layer of emotional and spiritual depth. It feels deeply personal and vital.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emma Hyams

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The last 170 or so pages are SO exciting. I couldn’t put it down and it felt like watching a movie that was made to look like it was all filmed in one shot. Loved Hettie’s entire story as well.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Laura Beth

    Received an ARC copy. I really enjoyed reading this book and the story of Violet (aka Vi aka The Elephant) and her zookeeper Hettie. I'm a fan of historical fiction, WW2, and Ireland/Northern Ireland. It did fall a bit flat - poor Hettie had so much going against her, but the ending was rather abrupt. That is to say - it just stopped. There wasn't any resolution so this is more a snapshot in time for Hettie. It was hard for me to connect with Hettie and really feel for her. Some of the story seem Received an ARC copy. I really enjoyed reading this book and the story of Violet (aka Vi aka The Elephant) and her zookeeper Hettie. I'm a fan of historical fiction, WW2, and Ireland/Northern Ireland. It did fall a bit flat - poor Hettie had so much going against her, but the ending was rather abrupt. That is to say - it just stopped. There wasn't any resolution so this is more a snapshot in time for Hettie. It was hard for me to connect with Hettie and really feel for her. Some of the story seemed a bit crazy but I suppose for a wartorn country and elephants were probably used to a lot of walking before being captured... The backdrop of living thru wartime Belfast and the everyday life contrasted with raids and picking thru the rubble was interesting. **Animal lovers may be turned off by a few graphic, but honest & realistic scenes.**

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Janzen

    The Elephant of Belfast is a historical fiction novel, set in Northern Ireland and inspired by the life of Denise Austin. The book begins in October, 1940 where a young woman, Hettie, is working hard to be taken seriously as a full-time zookeeper at the Bellevue Zoo in Belfast, in a world where these positions were typically awarded to young men. She is tasked with caring for a young elephant, Violet, with whom she forms a special bond. Six months later, bombs fall on Belfast and the city is rav The Elephant of Belfast is a historical fiction novel, set in Northern Ireland and inspired by the life of Denise Austin. The book begins in October, 1940 where a young woman, Hettie, is working hard to be taken seriously as a full-time zookeeper at the Bellevue Zoo in Belfast, in a world where these positions were typically awarded to young men. She is tasked with caring for a young elephant, Violet, with whom she forms a special bond. Six months later, bombs fall on Belfast and the city is ravaged by war and destruction. Hattie fights to keep Violet safe while her own safety is threatened as her city is destroyed beyond recognition. It was fascinating to read about life in Belfast during this period of time. We learn of political tensions with the IRA, as well as between Protestants and Catholics. Meanwhile, Hettie is trying to navigate her own world, as she has recently suffered the loss of her sister, and the absence of her father. There are several young men, who she entertains romantic feelings for, and I found it difficult to predict which direction her affections were going to take her. I loved the vivid descriptions of the zoo and the animals. The lengths the Hettie and the zoo employees went to care for the animals during the bombings and the aftermath was heartbreaking. This was a compelling story, and readers who love historical fiction will be drawn to this unique book about a courageous and resilient young woman and an Indian elephant. Thank you to Netgalley and Counterpoint Press for an ARC copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    “I’ve heard about you and Violet,” Samuel said. “That you spend all your waking hours with this elephant. That you’re becoming one of those freak people who can only get along with animals. That you haven't been right in the head since your sister.” Here is another book with a cover that draws me in being the elephant lover that I am. With all my WWII reading, I had never really encountered much with regards to the bombing of Belfast. Little did I know that this would be just the beginning of muc “I’ve heard about you and Violet,” Samuel said. “That you spend all your waking hours with this elephant. That you’re becoming one of those freak people who can only get along with animals. That you haven't been right in the head since your sister.” Here is another book with a cover that draws me in being the elephant lover that I am. With all my WWII reading, I had never really encountered much with regards to the bombing of Belfast. Little did I know that this would be just the beginning of much I was to discover from this well researched and written tale. Beginning in October, 1940 the reader is introduced to Hettie who is working hard to be taken seriously as a full-time zookeeper in a world where these positions are normally taken by men. Longing to care for the newly acquired elephant, Violet, she begins to form a special bond as the relationship fills a void in the many sad occurrences Hettie has had to deal with of recent times. The main theme is therefore one of coming of age for Hettie and one cannot help but sympathise for this young girl and all she endures - love, loss, grief and resilience. ‘He didn’t care about her. He was never going to complete her. Perhaps the truth was that no one was ever going to complete her, no one would ever be able to fill the gully of loneliness and sadness that seemed to be deepening inside her ...’ There is, however, a strong selection of subplots throughout this story that really add to the depth of engagement for the reader. Life in Ireland at this time is fraught with tension due to the war and, being set in Belfast there is of course, IRA tensions with some residents willing to support Hitler should it see the removal of the British. Add to that the ever present tension between Protestants and Catholics to add to an already volatile scene. ‘I have no choice but to follow the directive of the Ministry of Public Security. We all know another attack by the Germans is imminent. Next time, the animals could run free and endanger the lives of Belfast’s citizens..’ Then there are the stories pertinent to running a zoo in war time - rationing, for example, if the humans were rationing then so too would it affect the animals. Would they be allowed to starve? What happens also when structural damage to the zoo occurs due to the bombing and the possibility of animals escaping is both a high possibility not to mention frightening one. How would that be dealt with? There are chapters and scenes that, readers must be warned, are absolutely heartbreaking. ‘The calls of the animals soared into a vortex of cries and screams while the Germans continued to bomb Belfast. All of it was breaking upon Hettie - the horror, the sadness, the loss - at once.’ This is truly a touching and well written story. The relationship between Hettie and Violet is heartfelt - all the more so because it is based on real events. To become immersed in a young girls life as she faces, not only the usual coming of age issues, but also the utter devastation of WWII and the IRA is truly tragic. I learnt so much and recommend this read should some of the facts presented be new to you too. ‘Now she had Violet, and the elephant seemed to set the world on its right axis and align things in such a way that nothing else mattered ... Hettie was doing better than ever, thanks to Violet and her other charges at the zoo. Didn’t Josephine agree that animals had this power? The ability to enchant and delight during the toughest of times.’ This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fran

    Animals have a healing power for people that is unmistakable. There is nothing like being greeted by a pet who has anxiously awaited your arrival. Based upon the true story of Denise Weston Austin nicknamed the "elephant angel", this work of historical fiction describes an unbreakable bond between a female zookeeper and a three year old orphaned elephant from Ceylon during the time of the Belfast Blitz by the Luftwaffe during WWII. "Within the mere space of a year, the size of [Hettie Quin's] fam Animals have a healing power for people that is unmistakable. There is nothing like being greeted by a pet who has anxiously awaited your arrival. Based upon the true story of Denise Weston Austin nicknamed the "elephant angel", this work of historical fiction describes an unbreakable bond between a female zookeeper and a three year old orphaned elephant from Ceylon during the time of the Belfast Blitz by the Luftwaffe during WWII. "Within the mere space of a year, the size of [Hettie Quin's] family had dwindled from four to two". Her father had abandoned the family. Anna, her older sister married a political activist. Anna died in childbirth. Hettie's mother refused to visit her granddaughter, three month old Maeve, who lived in a Catholic neighborhood with Liam, Maeve's father. Hettie tried to distance herself from her mother's suffocating sadness. "Things hadn't always been this way...Despite the rationing, Hettie's mother had put considerable effort into making delicious stews and soups. Rose used to be animated...now the house was largely silent...". Hettie, twenty years old, had secured a job as part-time zookeeper at the Bellevue Zoo. A three year old orphaned elephant named Violet arrived at the Belfast dock. Hettie was dispatched with other zookeepers to receive her. While walking with Violet, Hettie heard some bystanders engage in political debate. "Was England's difficulty Ireland's opportunity...[to] get rid of the Brits and unite Ireland?" Some thought so. Approaching the zoo, Hettie was informed that Violet would live alone, up to one year, to adjust to her new life. "[Hettie's] fictional conversations with young men always went better when she mentioned her responsibilities for and care of her animal charges...she would become known as the zookeeper at Bellevue...". "...[Hettie] knew that she was enchanted by Violet just as much as she was frightened of her". Yet, she asked the head zookeeper to make her a full-time zookeeper and take care of Violet. When Violet's current zookeeper enlisted, Hettie got her wish. Violet, familiar with the sound of Hettie's voice, started to expect her visits and treats. Hettie seemed to prefer animals to people. Animals were happy to see her, grateful to be fed and given attention. Would the Luftwaffe bomb Belfast? "Hettie couldn't stop herself from imagining what an aerial invasion of her city might look like...deafening explosions, spontaneous fires...lost lives". Her uncommon devotion to her charge, and their growing dependence upon each other, helped them weather the actual Luftwaffe bombings and the Ministry of Public Security's orders that dangerous animals be killed because they might escape during air raids. She was bound and determined to keep Violet calm during the air raids and protected from the Constabulary. "The Elephant of Belfast" by S. Kirk Walsh is a historical novel depicting a special bond between an orphaned elephant and her young zookeeper during a time of sectarian unrest coupled with the German Blitz in April 1941. By writing in beautifully descriptive prose, this reader was able to visualize the difficult, painstaking attempts to unload Violet from the steamer and the challenging walk to the Bellevue Zoo. Descriptions of the Blitz and its repercussions were heartbreaking. This debut novel is an incredible, inspirational story of the power of love and resilience at a time of grief and the destruction and havoc created by war. Highly recommended. Thank you Counterpoint Press and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  27. 4 out of 5

    T

    “In a way, taking care of the elephant was restoring some part of herself, a part of herself she didn’t know existed until she met Violet on the quayside of Belfast all those months ago” There’s something about a relationship with animals that is so redemptive and healing, and this latest novel from S. Kirk Walsh demonstrates this so beautifully. It’s 1941, Belfast is in the midst of countless bombings, and, in the midst of her grief, Hettie Quin has become Belfast Zoo’s first ever female zookeep “In a way, taking care of the elephant was restoring some part of herself, a part of herself she didn’t know existed until she met Violet on the quayside of Belfast all those months ago” There’s something about a relationship with animals that is so redemptive and healing, and this latest novel from S. Kirk Walsh demonstrates this so beautifully. It’s 1941, Belfast is in the midst of countless bombings, and, in the midst of her grief, Hettie Quin has become Belfast Zoo’s first ever female zookeeper – a role she takes responsibly and with a huge desire to prove herself, particularly against her fellow male counterparts. Violet a three year old Indian elephant arrives and after some shifting around of staff at the zoo, Hettie becomes her main keeper. It is only a matter of weeks before the two of them develop a strong connection and a special form that underpins the rest of the book. It doesn’t take long for Walsh to develop Hettie, and indeed Violet, as characters and it is easy to become connected to them both very quickly. The story progresses through the events of the Blitz, and to ensure the safety of the city, certain decisions are made regarding the animals at the zoo. What this leads to is a tale of resilience, determination and ultimately love – where Hettie has to do all she can to save someone she loves – Violet. This book is packed with action, and there are also elements of romance. At times, Hettie’s male encounters are distracting from the main plot, and I would have loved to see more about the relationship between Hettie and Violet, their experiences together and how it all fits within the context of the zoo. Walsh does not sugar coat anything, sexual encounters are retold in crude detail which doesn’t always seem necessary in terms of the wider story. Very graphic and emotive events involving the animals do occur. Please do check for trigger and content warnings if you are sensitive to animal violence. Chapter 9 in particular was extremely gruelling, emotive and difficult for me personally to get through. I read it as fast as I could and then had to put the book down to process. The horror of the incidents really come through with the lack of sensitivity around this – and I guess that is the point – shock value. It works. It had me in tears. The main action in this book happens in the last third, making the start a little bit of a slow build at times, even with the subplot (distractions?) of Hettie’s romantic liaisons. It is important to remember that as historical fiction, this book is inspired the true story of Denise Austen who hid Sheila the elephant in her back yard to keep her safe from the raids- I’d have loved more of an author’s note to explain which elements or characters in the story were true, embellished or entirely fiction. Ultimately, this book shows us how a special connection – whether with a human or creature, can be incredibly healing. Hettie is overwhelmed by grief, but her relationship with Violet and her determination to save her keeps her head above water. Courage, friendship and compassion are key themes and overall this book was an incredible read. Please note: I was provided with a copy of this book via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hayley (Backpacking Bookworm)

    As a bookworm who reads a lot of books set during WW2, I'm always on the hunt for stories told from a unique perspective and with an original angle. I'm happy to report that The Zookeeper of Belfast ticked both of those boxes. I was really invested in this story and lived vicariously through Hettie, feeling the terror of attack, the grief of losing loved ones, and the comfort she sought in Violet the baby elephant. I loved the slow pace that allowed each scene to be fully brought to life through As a bookworm who reads a lot of books set during WW2, I'm always on the hunt for stories told from a unique perspective and with an original angle. I'm happy to report that The Zookeeper of Belfast ticked both of those boxes. I was really invested in this story and lived vicariously through Hettie, feeling the terror of attack, the grief of losing loved ones, and the comfort she sought in Violet the baby elephant. I loved the slow pace that allowed each scene to be fully brought to life through the author's detailed descriptions and the character evolution as they adjusted to a new reality, their lives and neighbourhoods shattered overnight. Violet was such a comfort during the awful events that Hettie witnessed, and I loved seeing their friendship blossom as they began to trust one another. The fact that it was based on a true story made me love the pair even more. My only criticism in this one was the romances; I'm not a romance-lover by nature but often find I'm okay with them in historical fiction (maybe because they are often closed-door and have more of a purpose with people needing to find an escape), but for some reason, I just wasn't onboard with the romantic side-plots which felt a bit contrived and promiscuous. The only other thing I would have liked was more! I do like how the story ended and felt that it gave the reader a sense of hope without tying all the loose ends up nicely (which I think worked perfectly). I was just invested in the characters to the point where I would have really enjoyed finding out more about their futures. Thank you so much to Hachette Australia, Hodder & Stoughton, and S. Kirk Walsh for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Rating breakdown Plot/narrative - 4 Writing style/readability - 4.3 Characters - 4.2 Diverse themes - 4 Ending - 4.2 Overall - 4.1

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bismah

    I was super excited to read this book and it was on my “To read” list for almost four months which is why I am so disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book at all. To begin with, I didn’t enjoy the writing style at all. This is a personal preference, so others may actually like it, but I just couldn’t keep myself engaged with the story. The dialogue just felt very bizarre at times and I really didn’t enjoy the fact that characters kept referring to each other using different names (i.e. last na I was super excited to read this book and it was on my “To read” list for almost four months which is why I am so disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book at all. To begin with, I didn’t enjoy the writing style at all. This is a personal preference, so others may actually like it, but I just couldn’t keep myself engaged with the story. The dialogue just felt very bizarre at times and I really didn’t enjoy the fact that characters kept referring to each other using different names (i.e. last name in one instance and then first name in another). It confused me at times and just really took me out of the story quite a few times. The characters themselves felt very boring and extremely underdeveloped. Hettie herself just felt very robotic and inconsistent as a character. In fact, many of the characters just felt underdeveloped and I felt there were quite a few plot lines that went unfinished. (view spoiler)[ Another thing that really confused me and put me off was the gratuitous amount of sex in this book. I’m not a prude but considering this book was advertised to be about the relationship between Hettie and Violet, I was expecting it to be more about…Well Hettie and Violet. Instead, I got many weird romantic subplots that added nothing to the story and just really put me off to the story. (hide spoiler)] While this book is called The Elephant of Belfast it seems that the story was about anything but the elephant of Belfast. I saw that the book was being published in the U.S. as The Elephant of Belfast while in the UK it’s being published as The Zookeeper of Belfast . I’m not sure why they would do this, (view spoiler)[ but considering how little we actually got about the elephant, maybe the book should be released as the The Zookeeper of Belfast here too (hide spoiler)] .

  30. 4 out of 5

    Caly ☯ Crazy Book Lady

    I won this book in a giveaway in return for an honest review and to be honest I wanted to love it more than I did. I actually rate it 3.5 stars because from page 175 on the book was brilliant. Unfortunately up to that point I was extremely disappointed. I adore historical fiction and while the book did a great job of describing the setting and bringing war torn Ireland to life, it got boring about 100 pages in as I was not interested in Hettie's love life or the names of every zoo animal in Bell I won this book in a giveaway in return for an honest review and to be honest I wanted to love it more than I did. I actually rate it 3.5 stars because from page 175 on the book was brilliant. Unfortunately up to that point I was extremely disappointed. I adore historical fiction and while the book did a great job of describing the setting and bringing war torn Ireland to life, it got boring about 100 pages in as I was not interested in Hettie's love life or the names of every zoo animal in Bellevue. Characters that were important like the Christie's fell flat for me and some much info was just included about the Irish civil unrest that I was often confused because I know so little about it and it should not have been so much of the book in the random way it was, though I realize this is based on a true story so it was important. The part that I did like, I loved. Mr Wright was a phenomenal character and made the book for me. I would have liked to have known more about Ferris or the backstory on Violet since she is so young but yet so well trained. Loved all the scenes with the nuns! They were a wonderful counterpoint to the death and sadness that was so much a part of the book. My biggest wish was that it started with more action and the pages spent leading up the bombing were instead used to tell more of the story at the end. I wanted to know why Mr. Wright did what he did and since so much energy was spent on Hettie's love life does she end up with either Ferris or Samuel? There is so much more I wanted to know about the zoo afterwards, I felt let down. All in all a good book, just not engaging enough for me as someone who loves both animals AND historical fiction. A major thank you to Counterpoint press for giving me this opportunity and for taking a chance on a book with a story that needed to be told.

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