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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

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    Twenty-year-old Hettie Quin had started part-time at Belfast’s zoo, cleaning up after the animals, caring for them and at the opening of the novel, she was assisting Ferris and Mr Wright in getting the new Indian elephant, three-year-old Violet, from the docks to the zoo. Violet had just arrived after a long journey at sea and was understandably fractious. Hettie desperately wanted to work full time, and work with Violet and after the men began leaving to fight in the war, Mr Wright promoted her Twenty-year-old Hettie Quin had started part-time at Belfast’s zoo, cleaning up after the animals, caring for them and at the opening of the novel, she was assisting Ferris and Mr Wright in getting the new Indian elephant, three-year-old Violet, from the docks to the zoo. Violet had just arrived after a long journey at sea and was understandably fractious. Hettie desperately wanted to work full time, and work with Violet and after the men began leaving to fight in the war, Mr Wright promoted her to full time zookeeper, looking after Violet as well as other animals. Hettie’s father had long abandoned the family and when Anna, Hettie’s older sister, had died in childbirth, it was just Hettie and her mother Rose. As depression ruled Rose’s life, Hettie spent as much time as she could at the zoo and her bond with Violet couldn’t be stronger. But the night the Germans bombed Belfast, everything changed in the lives of people around her. Desperate to save Violet, Hettie put her own life at risk several times over. But would she be able to keep both herself and Violet safe? Set in 1941, The Zookeeper of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh is based on a true story and is filled with the amazing courage and tenacity of Hettie. Although very naïve and innocent in the ways of men and life, Hettie’s love of animals and her compassion for Violet saw her overcome much. An enjoyable read, The Zookeeper of Belfast is one I recommend. With thanks to Hachette AU for my ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 5 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/

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bloss ♡

    I was so excited to read this and I’m truly gutted I didn’t enjoy it! I found the writing style and dialogue very stilted. Hettie was absolutely robotic, devoid of any character/emotion and I didn’t feel any vested interest in her as a lead character. Her obsession with boys and inner monologue on same was tedious and not what I was at all interested in reading. Her relationships with her line manager, Ferris, her mother, and Liam were all downright bizarre. She blew hot and cold and the relation I was so excited to read this and I’m truly gutted I didn’t enjoy it! I found the writing style and dialogue very stilted. Hettie was absolutely robotic, devoid of any character/emotion and I didn’t feel any vested interest in her as a lead character. Her obsession with boys and inner monologue on same was tedious and not what I was at all interested in reading. Her relationships with her line manager, Ferris, her mother, and Liam were all downright bizarre. She blew hot and cold and the relationship dynamics for all turned on a dime. One minute Mr Wright thinks she’s an inept knob and the next he’s hugging her and getting all maudlin’. It was jarring and confusing. Another element that was rather jarring was how everyone kept calling each other by their first and last name (and sometimes middle). It didn’t help the authenticity of the dialogue and was another reason the dialogue felt so stilted. I agree with some other reviewers that the gratuitous sex in this was off-putting. Interesting parts of the story were glossed over but we got two graphic sex scenes for no reason? It was a bit strange and an odd choice for a bleak book. I love elephants and the (view spoiler)[culling of the bonded pair really bothered me as did Hettie giving people rides on Violet. That’s so cruel and upsetting. Never mind the completely ridiculous the notion of Violet staying at Hettie’s house. She was far better off with the nuns if she couldn’t be at the zoo! (hide spoiler)] Now that I’ve read the book, it’s apparent why the European publishers changed the title of this from “The Elephant of Belfast” to “The Zookeeper of Belfast”. I would have loved to see more focus on the elephant than on Hettie melodrama.

  8. 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    AWWWW! I was so excited to read this book, so consider my level of disappointment to find the story was nothing more than mediocre and lacking in any real substance. I found it only loosely linked to WW11 and the depth that I expected in the promised relations was presented only one-dimensionally. I get that writing is a voice (David Putnam says so) but Walsh's voice just didn't get me to the point of any deeply felt response. According to David, I am flying on a completely different frequency t AWWWW! I was so excited to read this book, so consider my level of disappointment to find the story was nothing more than mediocre and lacking in any real substance. I found it only loosely linked to WW11 and the depth that I expected in the promised relations was presented only one-dimensionally. I get that writing is a voice (David Putnam says so) but Walsh's voice just didn't get me to the point of any deeply felt response. According to David, I am flying on a completely different frequency than the author. The indication of the book seemed like there was only one major bombing in Belfast, and the central issue in the story was the religious issues in Ireland. I was unaware that Northern Ireland was more sympathetic to Hitler than the allies. The book is about twenty-year-old zookeeper Hettie Quin and the elephant Violet, a three-year-old elephant. Hettie becomes the main elephant keeper and when the bombing in Belfast happens, her attachment to Violet helps her get over the loss of her sister and then her mother. I just found it lacking in-depth, heartfelt emotion or deep, rich characters. I just didn't find it to be anything special... it was just ok. 3 stars for an ok read. Happy Reading!

  10. 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.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Coltharp

    Ok book. Really enjoyed the interactions and parts of the book that focused on the zoo, the animals, and the workers there but Hettie’s interactions outside of the zoo were beyond bizarre! The interactions with her mother, Samuel, & most of all Liam, were very strange. These interactions with these characters left the book disjointed. The interaction with Liam was so bizarre it really kept me from focusing on the final part of the book. I received a complimentary ARC copy of this book through Ne Ok book. Really enjoyed the interactions and parts of the book that focused on the zoo, the animals, and the workers there but Hettie’s interactions outside of the zoo were beyond bizarre! The interactions with her mother, Samuel, & most of all Liam, were very strange. These interactions with these characters left the book disjointed. The interaction with Liam was so bizarre it really kept me from focusing on the final part of the book. I received a complimentary ARC copy of this book through NetGalley from Counterpoint Press. Thank you for this ARC! Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Paula Lyle

    One of the big reasons that I don't particularly like historical fiction is that no matter what the story is supposed to be about, the book keeps returning to the heroine's sex life. It honestly seems that these young women might have more important things on their minds, in this case, the Second World War and the bombing of Belfast. An interesting tale that could have been better. I received an eARC through NetGalley. One of the big reasons that I don't particularly like historical fiction is that no matter what the story is supposed to be about, the book keeps returning to the heroine's sex life. It honestly seems that these young women might have more important things on their minds, in this case, the Second World War and the bombing of Belfast. An interesting tale that could have been better. I received an eARC through NetGalley.

  13. 4 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Woolston

    This book had so much potential! But the author kept forcing these romantic subplots into the book. This made the protagonist an absolute one-dimensional idiot who got sidetracked by any male who paid her the slightest bit of attention. The storyline about the elephant was awesome. The bs about her sleeping with her dead sister’s husband (who was also an absolute scumbag!) was hard to believe, gross, and made Hettie unlikable. Focus on the elephant, she is by far the coolest character in the boo This book had so much potential! But the author kept forcing these romantic subplots into the book. This made the protagonist an absolute one-dimensional idiot who got sidetracked by any male who paid her the slightest bit of attention. The storyline about the elephant was awesome. The bs about her sleeping with her dead sister’s husband (who was also an absolute scumbag!) was hard to believe, gross, and made Hettie unlikable. Focus on the elephant, she is by far the coolest character in the book!

  15. 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)] .

  16. 4 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Provost

    The characters and animals are so lovable! Well…most of them. So interesting to read how Ireland was affected by WW2. I did not realize they had so many losses. Highly recommend this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gerry O'Malley

    I couldn’t wait to dive into this book. My father is from Belfast and it’s one of my favorite cities to visit for the food and the culture. The book was somewhat of a disappointment primarily because the main character’s relationship with men is entirely schizophrenic and inconsistent with her other motivations and behaviors. The main character, Hettie Quin, is a bit of an iconclast, striving and working hard to be taken seriously as the lone female zookeeper in a male-dominated occupation. The I couldn’t wait to dive into this book. My father is from Belfast and it’s one of my favorite cities to visit for the food and the culture. The book was somewhat of a disappointment primarily because the main character’s relationship with men is entirely schizophrenic and inconsistent with her other motivations and behaviors. The main character, Hettie Quin, is a bit of an iconclast, striving and working hard to be taken seriously as the lone female zookeeper in a male-dominated occupation. The author takes great pains to paint Hettie as a proper, serious young woman, aware that everything she does is scrutinized and frequently berated. Yet, on her first (and only) date with a local boy, she performs a sex act in the back of a movie theatre. Huh? She meets up with the boy a year or so later and is attracted to him, but he sexually assaults her in the elephant enclosure at the zoo and she has to fight him off. She is angry (understandably) with him, but then later in the book, the same boy is painted as a sympathetic figure and Hettie re-discovers affectionate feelings toward him. WTH? Another young man, Hettie’s brother-in-law becomes her first true sexual partner but then betrays her, steals her family’s fortune, nearly sells her elephant to a zoo and murders a police officer. Yet she visits him in prison and again, feels longing and affection for this lunatic. The only guy in the story that doesn’t receive Hettie’s sexual favors, is the kind, honest zookeeper that respects Hettie and slavishly follows her around while she sleeps with half of Belfast. Hettie’s sexual proclivities are incongruous with her heroic attempts to save a baby elephant from being slaughtered as part of a public safety campaign enacted because of the German bombing of Northern Ireland in the early days of WWII. It’s a 320 page book that doesn’t really begin to take off until page 175 when the bombs start dropping and Hettie has to rescue the elephant and keep it alive in a war-torn city and yet she still finds time to have sex with her brother-in-law TWICE in one day. I can’t say I hated the book, but you will get whiplash trying to keep up with the insanely divergent motivation and actions of all the main characters. The novel also feels unfinished - after all the weird sexual sidebars and zig-zagging across the city, the story just stops and there is no actual resolution or prediction of where the characters will go or which one or two or three of the men Hettie will elect to sleep with next. It's kind of a dumpster fire of a book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Not the easiest book to read. The subject matter was disturbing. I had never really thought this through...what happened to the animals in zoos in cities bombed during war. I learned quite a bit. But it was heartbreaking.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Martin

    Synopsis: It’s 1940 and Hettie Quin is a part-time zookeeper at the Bellevue Zoo. A sweet elephant named Violet arrives in Belfast and because some of the male zookeepers are leaving to join the war, Hettie is hired full-time and becomes Violet’s primary caregiver. Six months later, Belfast is attacked and Hettie is faced with trying to save herself and Violet. I loved that this book takes place during WWII, but was unlike any others I’ve read! I loved reading about Hettie’s life, her brief roman Synopsis: It’s 1940 and Hettie Quin is a part-time zookeeper at the Bellevue Zoo. A sweet elephant named Violet arrives in Belfast and because some of the male zookeepers are leaving to join the war, Hettie is hired full-time and becomes Violet’s primary caregiver. Six months later, Belfast is attacked and Hettie is faced with trying to save herself and Violet. I loved that this book takes place during WWII, but was unlike any others I’ve read! I loved reading about Hettie’s life, her brief romances, and how the zoo/Violet helped her deal with the loss of family, friends and life as she knew it before the war. I highly recommend getting your hands on this one!

  24. 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.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Such a vivid and tender account of a piece of history I knew little about. It was easy to lose myself in the story and the relationships so perfectly rendered.

  26. 4 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.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sherwestonstec

    I absolutely loved this book. It gave you tears and laughter. Taking place in October of 1940 through April 1941, it tells the story of zookeeper Hettie Quinn taking care of 3 year old Violet, an elephant arriving from Ceylon for the Bellevue Zoo in Belfast. It was inspired by the life of Denise Austin. “The Elephant of Belfast” is a complicated portrait of love, loss, grief, and resilience.” I highly recommend this book. Kirkus says: Walsh delivers a turbulent portrait of life in a divided city, I absolutely loved this book. It gave you tears and laughter. Taking place in October of 1940 through April 1941, it tells the story of zookeeper Hettie Quinn taking care of 3 year old Violet, an elephant arriving from Ceylon for the Bellevue Zoo in Belfast. It was inspired by the life of Denise Austin. “The Elephant of Belfast” is a complicated portrait of love, loss, grief, and resilience.” I highly recommend this book. Kirkus says: Walsh delivers a turbulent portrait of life in a divided city, and she wisely steers away from anthropomorphism. The animals, especially Violet, are real, messy, unpredictable creatures who don’t behave as their caretakers might like. Walsh offers a unique perspective of a country at war and the lengths people will go for those they love.A fresh perspective on painful losses during wartime.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Scott Semegran

    This lovely novel of historical fiction takes place in Belfast, Ireland during World War Two, where we find our 20-year old protagonist, Hettie, escorting a 3-year old elephant from the shipyard to the zoo. Hettie has landed her dream job as a zookeeper, a position usually filled by men. She desperately wants to have Violet the elephant under her watch, which benevolent zoo director Mr. Wright eventually bestows her. The war looms all around with rumors swirling about whether the Germans will bo This lovely novel of historical fiction takes place in Belfast, Ireland during World War Two, where we find our 20-year old protagonist, Hettie, escorting a 3-year old elephant from the shipyard to the zoo. Hettie has landed her dream job as a zookeeper, a position usually filled by men. She desperately wants to have Violet the elephant under her watch, which benevolent zoo director Mr. Wright eventually bestows her. The war looms all around with rumors swirling about whether the Germans will bomb Belfast or not. All the while, Hettie lives under the oppressive regime of her mother’s iron grip on their household. She sneers at Hettie’s dream of caring for the animals at the zoo. Hettie’s desire to care and be cared for lands her in the arms of a few male suitors, most of which are not up to the task of caring for such a strong-willed young woman. Walsh writes all of this with elegance and grace, and creates a cinematic landscape with a bustling city filled with life, music, and passion. When the horrors of the war finally encroach the city limits, normalcy is flipped on its head and Hettie’s life will not be the same afterwards. Hettie’s relationship with Violet the elephant is beautiful in its simplicity. Her other relationships with her mother and the men in her orbit are not so simple, most of which will leave emotional scars on Hettie’s heart, but not Violet. Their bond is elemental and enjoyable to witness. Readers will be rooting for them to the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I highly recommend it. I would give this novel 5 stars.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jinjer

    Why this book? Because I love elephants and this book is based on the story of a real elephant. Check out the Q&A Susan @ The Cue Card did with the author and photos of the real elephant!!! --> https://www.thecuecard.com/books/q-a-... Why this book? Because I love elephants and this book is based on the story of a real elephant. Check out the Q&A Susan @ The Cue Card did with the author and photos of the real elephant!!! --> https://www.thecuecard.com/books/q-a-...

  30. 5 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.

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