The Elephant of Belfast: A Book Experience

I often wonder about the state of animals in a civil war or any other clash with extreme display of arms and violence. What might be going through the mind of these fellow netizens of Earth? When bombs explode out of nowhere and anywhere in the troubled space, where do the birds and animals of the region run for shelter? The number of people who unfortunately die by virtue of the horrendous and distressing act of power and hatred are counted. But what about the animals of the area? Who keeps their count? It was these thoughts that lead me to take up reading the book “The Elephant of Belfast” by S. Kirk Walsh.

This book is a historical fiction that is set during the time of World War II, particularly the bombing of Belfast in Ireland by Germany. In this city lived a young woman Hettie who has immense empathy for animals. Hettie works as a zookeeper and is in charge of a young 3-year-old elephant,, Violet. Hettie has a troubled personal life and so has Violet who is an orphan baby elephant. The two share an uncanny and lovely camaraderie and somehow become responsible for saving each other amidst the bombing of their city.

The book is a fresh take on World War II narratives. Unfortunately, the relationship between the two did not appeal to me. The story is more concentrated over Hettie, and even she lacks depth. She has a troubled personal life which is talked about redundantly throughout the book. And her quick falling for every other man in the book disappointed me. Her extremely forgiving and forgetting nature towards every other man she keeps falling for, was something which I couldn’t confer to.

Secondly, the animals have been vaguely discussed too. I do not know much about the rules of a zoo, but I was really not convinced by the way the functionaries of the zoo have been described here. Anyone can enter and exit a zoo at any time, be it day or night. Zookeepers resort to play and caress the animals, be it the mighty elephants to the ferocious lions, etc.

Lastly, the relationships discussed in the book also appeared vague to me. The relation of Hettie with her mother is close to zero, while that with her sister’s memories and run-away father is more pronounced.

Overall, I did not get what I was looking for from the book. Nevertheless, the book is a fresh take on World War narratives and stories, for which it should be celebrated.

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