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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.
Belfast, October 1940. Twenty-year-old zookeeper Hettie Quin arrives at the city docks in time to meet her new charge: an orphaned three-year-old Indian elephant named Violet. As Violet adjusts to her new solitary life in captivity and Hettie mourns the recent loss of her sister and the abandonment of her father, new storm clouds gather. A world war rages, threatening a city already reeling from escalating tensions between British Loyalists and those fighting for a free and unified Ireland.
The relative peace is shattered by air-raid sirens on the evening of Easter Tuesday 1941. Over the course of the next five hours, hundreds of bombs rain down upon Belfast, claiming almost a thousand lives and decimating the city. Dodging the debris and carnage of the Luftwaffe attack, Hettie runs to the zoo to make sure that Violet is unharmed. The harrowing ordeal and ensuing aftermath set the pair on a surprising path that highlights the indelible, singular bond that often brings mankind and animals together during horrifying times.
Inspired by a largely forgotten chapter of World War II, S. Kirk Walsh deftly renders the changing relationship between Hettie and Violet, and their growing dependence on each other for survival and solace. The Elephant of Belfast is a complicated and beguiling portrait of hope and resilience--and how love can sustain us during the darkest moments of our lives.
About the Author
S. KIRK WALSH is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work has been widely published in The New York Times Book Review, Longreads, StoryQuarterly, and Electric Literature, among other publications. Over the years, she has been a resident at Ucross, Yaddo, Ragdale, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Walsh is the founder of Austin Bat Cave, a writing and tutoring center that provides free writing workshops for young writers throughout Austin. The Elephant of Belfast is her first novel.
Kirkus Reviews, 1 of 10 Fiction Books to Look for This Year
"Walsh fictionalizes in her charming debut a little-known true story from WWII, that of a female Irish zookeeper and a 3,000-pound young elephant. The year is 1940 when 20-year-old Hettie Quin, a part-time zookeeper, waits at the Belfast docks for the arrival of Bellevue Zoo’s latest attraction—a three-year-old elephant named Violet . . . Hettie’s devotion to Violet forms the emotional core of this novel, which does an excellent job of recreating daily life in Belfast during WWII. Hettie and Violet’s bond is one to treasure." ––Publishers Weekly
"Walsh delivers a turbulent portrait of life in a divided city . . . A unique perspective of a country at war and the lengths people will go for those they love." ––Kirkus Reviews
"Sensitively rendered and finely drawn, this remarkable story, based on true events, is both uplifting and heartbreaking." --Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and The Exiles
"The Elephant of Belfast knocked me flat and picked me up, not just once but many times over the course of S. Kirk Walsh's deeply satisfying telling. There's so much life in these pages, life as well as death—we're in wartime Belfast, dear reader, and the Luftwaffe is dropping bombs—that I couldn't help but feel changed by the end, experienced. Only the best novels do that, and the very fine Elephant of Belfast belongs in that rank." —Ben Fountain author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
"The Elephant of Belfast boasts not one but two dauntless heroines: Hettie, a young Irish zookeeper and Violet, a young Indian elephant. From their first meeting, Hettie is determined to protect Violet and as dangers mount, we cannot help cheering on her devotion and her resourcefulness. Walsh has written a novel of deep affection and knife-edge suspense. A brilliant debut." ––Margot Livesey, author of The Boy in The Field
"The Elephant of Belfast is a lovely book about a fascinating piece of history, and its two heroines--animal and human--are enthralling and beautifully drawn. S. Kirk Walsh writes wonderfully about heartbreak both personal and historic." --Elizabeth McCracken, author of Bowlaway
"An elephant, a young zookeeper, the city of Belfast, bombings, and an IRA member are the improbable characters in this captivating and intimately felt novel that tells the story of a young woman's uncommon devotion and courage under fire." --Lily Tuck, author of Sisters and The Double Life of Liliane
"A zoo in wartime Belfast and a young woman's fierce love for the elephant in her care come vividly to life in this beautiful, beguiling, and atmospheric debut novel." --Dominic Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos