Title: An Elephant in the Garden
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Genre: Young adult historical fiction
How I got the book: I bought it
Summary (from Goodreads):
With Lizzie’s father fighting in World War II, her mother takes on the job of a zoo keeper to provide for her family. Lizzie, her mother, and her eight-year-old brother Karli have become especially attached to an orphaned elephant named Marlene. The bombing of Dresden is imminent and soon, so the zoo director explains that as a precautionary measure all the animals must be destroyed so that they’re not running wild through the city. Lizzie’s mother persuades the director to allow Marlene, the elephant, to come stay in the family’s garden.
As predicted, Dresden is bombed, and the family, including Marlene, is forced from the city. Lizzie and her family aren’t alone. Thousands of Dresden residents are fleeing to find somewhere safe to stay. Lizzie’s mother has to find a different route out of the city to keep the elephant and the children safe from harm. Once they reach the abandoned home of their relatives, they come across Peter, a Canadian navigator who, by putting himself at risk of capture to save the family, gains their trust.
Like all Holocaust stories, this book can be a difficult read. But this story was unlike the other World War II stories I’ve read and in that sense, it can be a refreshing read. It’s bittersweet.
The protagonist, Lizzie, is old and frail living in a nursing home. She befriends a nurse and her son, Karl, who happens to have the same name as Lizzie’s little brother. This prompts her to tell her story on the anniversary it happened so many years ago during World War II.
Lizzie was 16-years-old when her father went off to war, their city was bombed by the Americans and British, and they had to journey through the dark and cold struggling for food and shelter. It was just her, her mother, little brother, and their elephant, Marlene, who was brought home by their mother from the zoo.
Most Holocaust stories are about the Jews in the camps, their experiences, horror stories, and how they survived and stayed strong. Lizzie and her family are Germans who disagreed with Hitler. When you think of the Holocaust you think of two sides: the Jews and the Nazis. You don’t think about the other Germans who were actually good, who didn’t agree with Hitler and wanted peace.
Yet Lizzie and her family were caught up in the war because all of Germany was bombed and attacked in an attempt to free the Jews. They didn’t decide to just attack the Nazis, they attacked Germany as a whole and that resulted in so much more innocent lives lost and destroyed.
The overall story was told nicely as Lizzie narrated her life. Once in a while, the story would bounce back to present day as Lizzie in the hospital with her nurse and the nurse’s son sitting by her bedside intrigued by the story.
The characters were fun to read about. Each one had a purpose and was strong and brave in their own way. They were all imporant and easy to read.
This book is inspired by true events, but I don’t know what’s true and what’s not. Either way, it’s an important read.
An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo gets 5 out of 5 stars.
“What we are seeing now is a world gone mad, children, a world full of brutes, all intent on killing one another. And we should not forget that we are all responsible for making it happen, for letting it happen.” –Michael Morpurgo, An Elephant in the Garden