Inspired by the true story of a Northern Irish zookeeper who hid an elephant in her house during Germany's 1941 bombing of Belfast, this novel tells the tale of 20-year-old zookeeper Hettie Quin, whose care of Violet the elephant provides solace amid many losses: her father's abandonment, her sister's death during childbirth, and the tension between her Protestant mother and niece, whose father is Catholic.
Tragedy, betrayal, and danger stalk Hettie, but Violet nurtures her as she, in turn, nurtures Violet. Inspired by true events, this moving story of two heroines—a female zookeeper and an adolescent elephant—speaks not only to the brutality of war, but also to religious tensions in Northern Ireland that remain pervasive today. The finely drawn prose is cinematic in places, and the characters are vividly brought to life with Walsh’s deft portraiture. The Elephant of Belfast is historical fiction at its best.
... a beguiling and compelling story of historical fiction ... Walsh’s research pays dividends for the reader as the sights, sounds, and smells of Belfast rise in the imagination ... Walsh’s steady pacing accelerates, never faltering as it hurtles into waking nightmare. The author has invented a large cast of characters, but the company isn’t unwieldy, each skillfully drawn personality proving original and filling their niche to propel the action. Walsh deftly weaves her subplots into the main narrative ... a heartfelt and heartbreaking, ultimately inspiring and uplifting, tale of coming-of-age in extraordinary circumstances.
With such a unique premise, the novel remains engaging despite occasionally clichéd prose and a plot that gets bogged down in detail. Hettie’s grief and longing are palpable, her mounting losses real and tangible. Through heart-stirring scenes of violence and destruction in a city unprepared for the chaos of war, Walsh showcases a flair for description and emotion, and for rendering ordinary lives amid extraordinary circumstances.