Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Elephant of Belfast

Guest review written by Annette:

The Elephant of Belfast

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published April 6th 2021 by Counterpoint Press

Written by S. Kirk Walsh.

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Inspired by the true story of Denise Weston Austin, the “elephant angel.”

Belfast, Northern 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 interesting.

I warmed up to the main character right away. After losing her sister and the abandonment of her father, Hettie 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 interesting to get a glimpse into people’s minds. How some Irish 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 affected not only humans, but also the animals at the zoo, which further affected some decisions in handling the animals.

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 a bit of history about the true story that inspired this work of fiction.

This review was reposted with permission. You can follow Annette’s reviews on her blog and Instagram (@AnnetteBReviews)