The Zookeeper of Belfast

A heart-stopping WW2 historical novel based on an incredible true story

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.

Buy this Book on

You must sign in to see if this title is available for request.
Pub Date 1 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2021

Talking about this book? Use #TheZookeeperofBelfast #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


As the bombs rain down on the city, Belfast's first ever female zookeeper must fight to save the baby elephant in her charge in this gripping, uplifting tale based on a true story.

1941. With the men away fighting, animal-lover Hettie Quin is made Belfast Zoo's first ever female zookeeper. She is put in charge of Violet, a three-year-old Indian elephant, and they soon form a special bond. With Violet at her side, Hettie can almost escape the grim reality of her life: the father who has abandoned her family; the sister who recently died; the war that's raging hundreds of miles away.

But the devastation of war is closer than she thought. When the bombs begin to rain down on the city, Hettie must gather all her courage to protect those she loves the most. Can she save Violet - and get through unscathed herself?

Based on a true story, The Zookeeper of Belfast is a gripping and uplifting tribute to what one woman's courage and tenacity can achieve in the most dire of circumstances - perfect for fans of Heather Morris, Natasha Lester, Kate Furnivall, Mandy Robotham and Fiona Valpy.


'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

Walsh has written a novel of deep affection and knife-edge suspense. A brilliant debut.' - Margot Livesey, author of The Boy in The Field

'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

'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

'Cinematic in scope and brimming with emotion, this is a soaring work of historical imagination.' - Karen Olsson, author of All the Houses

'Walsh's lovely debut spins this historical sliver into a vivid novel of redemption and mutual care' NYT Book Review

'Based on real events, this engrossing novel takes place a year into the Second World War. A three-year-old elephant named Violet arrives at Belfast's Bellevue Zoo, where Hettie Quin, a young zookeeper mourning the recent death of a sister, finds purpose and solace in caring for her' The New Yorker

The Elephant of Belfast is deeply emotive . . . Action is heart-pounding; the imagery vivid; the message universal: connections and friendships among living creatures, both animal and human, offer solace, support, and strength in the darkest times' Historical Novels Review

As the bombs rain down on the city, Belfast's first ever female zookeeper must fight to save the baby elephant in her charge in this gripping, uplifting tale based on a true story.

1941. With the men...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781529345537
PRICE £14.99 (GBP)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)
Send To Kindle (PDF)
Download (PDF)

Average rating from 18 members

Featured Reviews

amazing story of belfasts only female zookeeper set during the war and featuring violet the little elephant i so enjoyed this book .it takes in the bombings of belfasts docks and surrounds and the loss of life which is harrowing but overall a wonderful read .

Was this review helpful?

Omg this book made me smile made me cry. Coming from Belfast and remembering going to Bellevue Zoo this really captured my heart. What a brilliant zookeeper.

Was this review helpful?

Hettie works at the Zoo during the war. She becomes the first female zookeeper. With food shortages it's decided by the government that some animals should be slaughtered. Hettie is determined to save the baby elephant. I really enjoyed this book about the Zoo. It's based on a true story. It must have been so difficult. With the war, the IRA and everything it entails this is quite a powerful read. Although it is quite a dark storyline it is also uplifting and full of hope. Description As the bombs rain down on the city, Belfast's first ever female zookeeper must fight to save the baby elephant in her charge in this gripping, uplifting tale based on a true story.

Was this review helpful?

An absolutely delightful read! It’s a heartwarming adventure story of a plucky young woman and a her animal friend. It is based on a true story which is fascinating! When I finished this book I was left with a warm fuzzy feeling and wanted to read it all over again.

Was this review helpful?

A beautiful book based on a true story. Was absolutely incredible to read. I can not wait to find more from author!!

Was this review helpful?

Absolutely brilliant book. I loved it! Have recommended to my friends. I just didn’t want to put it down, I loved the story and got so invested. Brilliant.

Was this review helpful?

Belfast 1941. War is underway and whilst some men have gone away to fight, the war feels distant. Hettie is still morning the loss of her beloved sister in childbirth, and her father who has disappeared, but takes solace in her job as a part time zookeeper. This solace becomes an antidote to loneliness and grief as she becomes the keeper for a young elephant at the zoo, Violet. As their relationship build the war comes closer to Belfast’s shores threatening their lives and friendship. Saying any more will ruin the story but this is a fabulous book. Inspired by the true story of Denise Weston Austin and Shiela the elephant, the love between Hettie and Violet is palpable throughout the book. The descriptive writing is beautiful and the author brilliantly paints the scene of Belfast. I particularly enjoyed Violet’s arrival and walk from the port to the zoo, I felt like I was there. No punches are pulled either on the reality of sectarianism, the IRAs hope for a German victory, and the tragedy of civilian bombings and their consequences for people and animals. This is why I love historical fiction. I’d highly recommend.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: