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Father of Lions: One Man's Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo

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Father of Lions is the powerful true story of the evacuation of the Mosul Zoo, featuring Abu Laith the zookeeper, Simba the lion cub, Lula the bear, and countless others, faithfully depicted by acclaimed, award-winning journalist Louise Callaghan in her trade publishing debut.

Combining a true-to-life narrative of humanity in the wake of war with the heartstring-tugging account of rescued animals, Father of Lions will appeal to audiences of bestsellers like The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Bookseller of Kabul as well as fans of true animal stories such as A Streetcat Named Bob, Marley and Me, and Finding Atticus.

“An unexpectedly funny and moving book. ... Through the story of a man who loves both lions and life, Louise Callaghan shows how humour and defiance can counter cruelty, and why both humans and animals crave freedom.” -- Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor, Channel 4 News and author of In Extremis: the life of war correspondent Marie Colvin.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published September 5, 2019

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Louise Callaghan

3 books13 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 184 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,685 reviews14k followers
November 3, 2019
What an absolutely incredible story. A true story full of heart, living under ISiS, war, hope andd those who care, even putting themselves in danger for a few helpless animals.

Mosul was once a vibrant city, s city of families, where a young girl could play hop scotch in front of her house. All this changes when ISIS arrives. Soon many are thrown out of their houses, others hide in their houses, and public execution become a daily event. What food there is available is expensive and many do not have enough to eat.

A man, a wonderful man Abu Laith, has nursed a young lion cub, feeding him from a bottle, trying to take care of Zombie as he was named and the other animals. Though his house is next to the zoo, he is a wanted man, and so he watches from his roof. His animals are starving and he does the best he can to keep them safe, but it is not enough. By, the time the Americans arrive, only few animals are left and they are in terrible shape. What happens next is both wonderful and frustrating.

There is humor, Abu Laith is a man who refuses to give in to war, who is determined to find a way. Human perseverance and the human spirit, people who care. A few doctors who risk their own lives, the same group that saved the animals in Bagdhad, come with hope and advice. A story I won't soon forget, because sometimes when something seems impossible, the impossible can sometimes happen.

"It was too much. Months of bear starvation, a bear cub dead, and now this insult. Abu Laith, with tears still in his eyes, burst into a blank fury. "Why didn't we eat them?" he yelled. "You don't eat animals who have earned your respect. We all went by try to keep them alive. That's what respect is."

ARC from bookbrowse.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,051 reviews30k followers
January 16, 2020
When something tragic happens, are you one of those people who worries about the animals? I definitely am. Like when ISIS occupied Mosul, a zoo needed to be evacuated. That’s the true story at the heart of Father of Lions.

ISIS arrives in beautiful, once thriving, Mosul. All at once, most everything is lost, especially safety.

Abu Laith bottlefed Zombie as a young lion cub and has other animals in his care. He is also “wanted,” and there are limits to what he can do on top of the general threats of ISIS.

Father of Lions is a beautifully-written, enlightening story. It’s not easy to read about war and terror, but the story also instills hope. Amid all that was going on, animals were cared for. I’m so grateful Callaghan shared this remarkable story. I’ll never forget the indelible experience of reading it. And the animals!

I received a complimentary copy.

Many of my reviews can also be found on instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,647 reviews1,486 followers
March 24, 2020
The title, Father of Lions: The Remarkable True Story of the Mosul Zoo Rescue, informs a prospective reader that the book’s central topic is the rescue of animals from a zoo in Mosul. What it does not tell you is that it is as much about the rescue of the animals as it is about the terrible two-and-a-half-year-long ISIS occupation of the city Mosul in Iraq. View this as a word of warning. This is not simply a heart-warming tale about animals. Neither is it made clear that in fact only two animals were evacuated and saved--a bear and a lion. The two are eventually .The majority of the animals die. This is depicted too. With these facts set straight, I will explain why I like the book a lot.

The book makes super clear how it felt to be living in the Mosul war zone, which is what it was. For who? For just plain old ordinary people, our contemporaries. The self-proclaimed zookeeper, Abu Laith, is a car mechanic, but he absolutely adores animals, and he always has. It is through flashbacks that we learn this and about his earlier life. He has f-i-f-t-e-e-n kids. I have counted it to be that many, but it depends on which ones you count. He is married to his third wife and he loves her and his kids alongside his beloved animals. The lion spoken of, he has raised and trained from infancy.

Abu Laith is quite a character, except that this guy is not fictional. He’s real. What is told in this book is amazingly enough true. He is not educated in the care of animals, but as he often and loudly proclaims, he watches everything on the National Geographic Channel! What this guy says and does makes one smile. Think, to assume you know how to care for animals simply by watching TV! His exuberance, self-assurance and get-up-an’-go attitude is amusing.

To this is added the chaos and hubbub of the family. This puts a smile on your face too. Bedlam is the norm. His wife has to deal with all this, and she does. She has to of course say what she thinks, and she does. This big, large, squabbling, rambunctious but ordinary family is easy to relate to. That you can smile in a book with a war setting, where you also palpably feel fear, deprivation and see the ghastly horrors the war entails, is almost a necessity.

What I am saying is that the reader truly understands how scary it must have felt when ISIS step by step restricted individual freedom. Creepy and scary because we observe this in a normal, an ordinary family that is easy to relate to.

Actually, we meet two families. In the second family, the husband and wife are lawyers, one child is studying in the States, another is at a university closer to home and a third child gets involved in rescuing the zoo animals. Through these two families we observe the effects of occupation from different perspectives. The information provided ties together, serves a purpose and gives a full picture of the conflict played out between the militants, the Iraqi army and American forces. Through these two families the conflict is portrayed on a personal level which makes it easier to relate to. All of this is interwoven with the rescue of the animals and with all the diverse components tying together.

Events are alternately scary, funny and exciting. That there are people willing to help animals when life is crashing down around them is remarkable and heart-warming. An Egyptian born vet living in Vienna is tied in too.

An epilog, postscript and afterword fill in what happens afterwards to all those who have been involved. Additional information about the author is provided too.

This is a story, a true story, that deserves to be told, and it is told well.

Saul Reichlin narrates the audiobook and his narration is very well done too. It is read at a perfect speed and clearly. Both the book and the narration I have given four stars.


*The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State 4 stars
*The Zookeeper's Wife 4 stars
*Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo TBR
Profile Image for Patricia.
524 reviews98 followers
January 3, 2020
FATHER OF LIONS takes place in Mosul, Iraq after 2 and a half years of ISIS occupation and fighting. At the Mosul zoo, the animals are starving and dying, as are the people. Abu Laith is an animal lover and tries his best to protect and care for the animals. Word gets to Austria to an animal charity which rescues animal. I loved everything about this book. It helped me understand life in Iraq at this time. I loved the cooperation of so many diverse people to save the animals. I believe this is a book which many people will come to love and appreciate!
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
580 reviews326 followers
February 17, 2020
5 🦁 🦁 🦁 🦁 🦁
What an amazing story! It reads like fiction as it transports you to war torn Iraq.
As ISIS moves in and overtakes Mosul, the reader is right in the thick of it. I come away with better understanding and empathy for those whose lives were so destroyed, losing almost everything to death, violence, and despair. Much sadness here but surprisingly, humor also.
Abu Laith, what a character. I would love to meet him, and Dr. Amir, my kind of humans.

"The soldiers walked into the zoo. The commander came over to Abu Laith...Aren't you people hungry? he asked, incredulously. Why didn't you kill them for meat?
It was too much. Months of near-starvation, a bear cub dead, and now this insult. Abu Laith, with tears still in his eyes, burst into a blank fury.
Why didn't we eat them? he yelled. You don't eat animals who have earned your respect. We all went hungry to keep them alive. That's what respect is."

If you enjoy real life superhero tales told in the most engaging fashion I highly recommend this one.

Profile Image for Wendy.
1,592 reviews552 followers
February 9, 2020
A great book makes me feel like I am living in the story. This book did just that!
News Journalist and Author Louise Callaghan gives us a retelling of actual events from the perspective of several inhabitants of Mosul during the city's occupation by ISIS. To read about their daily nightmares to stay alive was intensely sad, horrific, yet educational and necessary.
Amid the chaos one man, Abu Laith, does his best to care for and protect the animals of the Mosul Zoo, much to his wife's chagrin. As conditions worsen risking the lives of the few remaining animals, Abu Laith with the help of a handful of individuals (including a veterinarian), struggle and risk their lives to keep the animals alive.
Thank you to Louise Callaghan who had me totally engrossed in this true story that reads like a novel.
Definitely Eye-Opening and Highly Recommended!

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge Books for an arc of this novel in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Athena (OneReadingNurse).
648 reviews90 followers
December 20, 2019
Thank you so much to Bookish First and Forge books for my advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!

Well shit, that put me into a book coma.

I put the post script down and looked some of the people up on Facebook, and seeing that three year gap in their posts just made this book so, so incredibly real. Seriously you can look up Hakam's band on youtube! I am not sure where the videos were filmed, hopefully Mosul, and they're pretty talented

Alright anyway - based on true people and events during the ISIS occupation of Mosul, the book is about the people and animals of the city during that period. Abu Laith is doing everything he can to keep the animals and his family alive until a brilliant rescue is made at the end of the occupation. The other family, the Zarari's, also stayed in the city throughout the bulk and were eventually displaced - the two stories crossed paths at the end.

The research is real. I just thought to look up the vet as well, Dr Amir, and Four Paws, and they do some amazing work.

One of my real burning questions is - what happened to the monkeys? They were put back in the cages after they escaped and never mentioned again, I thought some were still alive but they weren't rescued.

I'm totally 100% recommending the book. The author drove me nuts with a few style issues such as constantly saying "he later recalled" or "she later remembered" while telling the rest of the story in present tense. Small details though, the decline into occupation and then liberation and the mounting rescue just made this so hard to put down. I want to buy a finished copy so I can have one without the errors and make everyone read it!

Thank you thank you thank you for this book
Profile Image for Cindy Burnett (Thoughts from a Page).
546 reviews966 followers
August 1, 2020
Father of Lions tells the tale of the ISIS occupation of Mosul, Iraq, in the mid-2010s through the lens of Abu Laith (known as the “Father of Lions”) and his attachment to certain animals from the Mosul Zoo. While the story related to the lions and other animals is interesting, I found the descriptions and details of Mosul’s ISIS occupation and its residents various responses to the occupation to be the most fascinating and compelling portions of the book.

To say war is terrible is stating the obvious. However, almost the entire time that I was reading this book, I just kept thinking how absolutely horrific and inhumane war is, not only to those that are fighting but also for those living in cities and towns that are under siege. Callaghan’s focus is on the civilians in Mosul, people who had already been living under tense and somewhat restrictive conditions due to the ongoing war in Iraq even before ISIS arrived. She describes their everyday lives and how almost every single aspect of their existence was altered. Callaghan also skillfully imbues the story with the cultural, societal and religious norms found in present-day Iraq allowing the reader to better understand the impact of the occupation on the city’s residents.

Wary of the ISIS soldiers after they took control of the city, the Moslawis (Mosul residents) were pleased to find that initially life did not change much under the new regime - other than the abandonment of the various checkpoints that had been in place and slowed things down under the Iraqi army’s rule. However, ISIS was smart and waited until the city had settled and adjusted to what residents thought was the new norm. Only then did ISIS begin to implement their tyrannical rules such as a complete ban on smoking, full coverage of women including their eyes, closing down movie theaters, imposing a strict curfew, and much more. Not only were the residents’ freedoms severely curtailed, there was almost constant sniper fire and random killings and beheadings in the streets of Mosul.

Father of Lions is a tough read, but I am so glad that I read it and feel I have a better understanding of some of the issues at play in Iraq in this century. This knowledge certainly makes me thankful for my freedom and infinitely more sympathetic to those who have had to endure not only ISIS, but really decades of war.

Listen to my podcast at https://www.thoughtsfromapage.com for fun author interviews. For more book reviews, check out my Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/thoughtsfro....
Profile Image for Therese.
303 reviews10 followers
March 25, 2020
Wavering between 3 to 4 stars. This was, indeed, an incredible true story, learning about the horrendous circumstances of life in Mosul during ISIS occupation, and how the fighting affected the animals at the local zoo, as well as the people that had to live through it. The end of the book was especially exciting as we find out about the zoo animals, who had suffered during war time activities, and what happens to them after ISIS was driven out. The extent to which a small group of people tried their best to take care of these animals, and themselves, during wartime, and what another small group did to cut through red tape and outwit the commanding forces to rescue these animals was just amazing, and I tip my hat to them.

All that being said, I had several problems with the book, despite its high points and its many rave reviews. For me, it seemed to be written in a simplistic style to the point I felt like I was reading a YA novel. Based on the title, I felt there would be more focus on the zoo and it’s reluctant zoo keeper. While we find out, early on, about how he hand nursed his lion from a cub and loved him throughout, the zoo seemed like more of a backdrop through the majority of the book, in favor of fleshing out the main characters and what life was like in their war torn city. That was very interesting and educational, but not what I necessarily expected. Finally, the copy editing was terrible, with sentence fragments repeated in the same sentence like mistaken copy/paste, for example. That happened several times to the point of being distracting and annoying.

I guess in the final analysis, I found this to be an interesting, exciting and educational story, but something a little different than what I expected.
Profile Image for Diane Yannick.
569 reviews740 followers
October 5, 2019
I reviewed this ARC for Book Browse. Its publication date is January 2020. Louise Callaghan, the author, spent a huge chunk of time researching and writing this true account of the Mosul zoo. This reader, for one, is very grateful. The backdrop is Iraq during the reign of Isis. I have a much better understanding of what this occupation was like after reading this book. The hunger, the attacks, the inhumanity all became real. Abu Laith, the father of the lions, was one of the most unique characters I’ve met in literature. His dedication to the zoo animals was pretty darn amazing. He gave Zombie, the lion he raised, as much (sometimes more) consideration as he did his large family. We only meet a few more characters and they are well fleshed out. If the scope had been broader, the book would have lost its razor sharp focus.

It has lots of detail but I never found it monotonous. Some of the scenes are brutal but realistic. I kept getting drawn back into the story. I put much of my life on hold so that I could find out what was going to happen next. A good one to put on your future radar.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,387 reviews299 followers
November 29, 2019
Ordinary people in extraordinary times can accomplish the heroic.

Father of Lions: One Man's Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo by Louise Callaghan tells the story of the people who worked to save the Mosul Zoo animals under unimaginable circumstances. The privations of wartime, the societal and political shifts under ISIS, and the extraordinary measures taken to extract the animals are vividly rendered.

Abu Laith loved animals. As a boy, he brought home two dogs who became his constant companions, which set him apart in a society that condemned dogs as unclean. He learned everything he could about wildlife from National Geographic and dreamed of creating his own zoo where the animals had open spaces instead of cages.

Upset by the neglect of the zoo animals across the street from his Mosul home, he contacted the distant zoo owner and became the zookeeper. He hand-raised a baby lion he called Zombie. He loved the lions and bears and monkeys and took great pride in their care.

When ISIS took over Mosul and set up camp in the zoo, Abu Laith went into hiding with his family. He fretted over his beloved animals' neglect, but under threat from ISIS was unable to leave his home. He hired a man out of his own pocket to care for the zoo.

And then the Iraq war came.

For over two and a half years, Abu Laith endeavored to keep his beloved animals alive. At the end of the ISIS occupation of the zoo, there were only a few starving animals left. A former government scientist became involved and contacted an Austrian charity that rescued animals. Egyptian veterinarian Dr. Amir risked everything to bring the remaining animals out of Mosul.

Life in Mosul before and during ISIS occupation is central to the story. One of the most difficult scenes involved Abu Laith's wife giving birth--unable to even raise the veil covering her face!

During the war, families squeezed into one room while under bombardment, enduring long hours of boredom and isolation. It was a struggle to find food and dangerous to even prepare it.

After the war, women lifted their unveiled, pale faces to the sun for the first time in years. The streets once again were filled with people. Zombie was repatriated to his native element. And readers rejoice with their reclaimed freedom.

I received an ARC through Bookish First in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Profile Image for Deepika.
225 reviews76 followers
December 19, 2020
By the time he was eighteen, Imad had discovered an immutable fact: animals were better than people.

The war was at his door, the ISIS waited to behead him, and he was cooped up in his house along with his wife, and a lot of children. And none of those predicaments perturbed Abu Laith (Imad). What made him despondent was the inhuman condition of his Zombie (a lion cub), Mother (a lioness), Father (a lion), Lula (a bear), a bear cub, and many other animals who were stranded in Mosul Zoo during the war. How would he keep the animals alive? How would he even take a quick trip to the zoo to ensure that it wasn’t bombed? At the heart of Louise Callaghan’s Father of Lions: How One Man Defied Isis and Saved Mosul Zoo lies the truth that…

…good things come from being kind to animals.

The help arrived in the form of Dr Amir Khalil, a conflict rescue vet, who was as determined as Abu Laith to free the animals. But humans struggle to understand why anybody would risk their life to liberate a pack of wild animals when millions of humans were engulfed by the war. Humans ridiculed Dr Amir, threw funny glances at him, made the rescue process unnecessarily difficult for him, but people like Dr Amir, and Abu Laith always knew that one should not be coerced to choose between humans, and animals, and if hurdles were intentionally planted on their way, they would jump over them, come what may. There should be enough room on this planet for every sentient being.

If people cared for animals, they should care for humans, and if they cared for humans, they should care for animals. Kindness should not be divided.

A year ago, I was mixing food for Ramu, a stray dog whom I befriended on my cycling route, and for reasons which I still don’t fathom, Ramu growled, and held my hand roughly for a brief moment. Dogs understand, and wait patiently when their food is being prepared, but Ramu was going down the hill already. He couldn’t see that I was trying to help him. The way he held my hand felt like a bite, and I went to the nearest hospital to start the rabies vaccine course. The receptionist at the hospital quizzed me to gather information for a report, and he loudly wondered, “You tried to feed a stray, and the dog bit you. Why do people still do it? Life is busy, and hard as it is. Why do people create time for animals, and even let animals hurt them?” Next time when I come across that question, I am going to recommend Callaghan’s book as the answer.

Wherever humans suffered, animals suffered too. Their food, their care and their lives were almost always the first casualties of war: pet dogs left to starve because the owners had to feed their children, zoo animals abandoned when keepers fled from fighting.

Anu Boo – my dog – is my best friend. Every once in a while, when I stay awake until the darkest hour – 3 AM – of the night, I would be visited by a sort of anxiety that I know too well. “Am I equipped enough to protect Anu Boo if a catastrophe falls upon us?” I ask myself. I play several scenarios in my head, add layers after layers of what-ifs, and I reach for the answers impatiently as though walking through a maze. Sometimes, the answers are comforting. Sometimes, the answers are so inadequate that I punch the walls of the maze. And that’s why books like this one become important. They are written to tell us that it’s okay to love animals despite knowing that we will live longer than them, and to tell us that there are people like us, and they will see us for the way we hold animals in our hearts.
Profile Image for Zubs Malik.
231 reviews95 followers
February 27, 2020

I have read so many books about ISIS occupation, war and terror. The harm and danger to life is still very real in the middle east as I type these words. Homes destroyed; families torn apart – so so much blood shed. But what ISIS/Taliban didn’t break and will never break is the resilience and HEART of the people of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.

Stories of Abu Laith (father of lions) and many like him, brave and courageous souls will not be destroyed, and I thank the author for telling this story.

This stunning portrayal, profoundly emotional and thought-provoking book has completely warmed my heart. I am no stranger to the news; I like the rest of the world see but there was such dept, such nuance in her portrayal, a soul baring honesty that it hurt my heart and made me happy at the same time.

I loved the structure of writing, the bridging of the past to the present through flashbacks, through dreams and nightmares and by connecting one chapter to another by a word. It flowed and I had I not researched the Mosul Zoo I probably would have assumed it was a work of fiction not the product of extensive research. Bravo.

My only one compliant is that the premise is a little misleading. It was not ‘one mans’ efforts to save the Mosul Zoo, it was a collective effort. There were many who risked their lives to save these precious animals. It was the children who sacrificed their food and begged for scarps to feed the animals. It was an international effort triggered by one Facebook post that eventually led to their rescue. The community feel, spirit and effort should be celebrated and recognise especially in the war-torn environment they abided in.

This book gives a face and ‘feeling’ to living in ISIS occupation and I thank my friend Becky for bringing it to my attention.

Profile Image for Anita.
1,325 reviews7 followers
February 17, 2020
When a country is at war, it is not only human lives that are at risk, so too are the fates of animals in captivity, as are objects of historical and cultural significance, all of which cannot easily or quickly be spirited away to safety. Throughout history, it is not uncommon for combatants (be it the occupiers or the resistance) to transform zoos into military bases. I suppose the rationale is that the locale provides a more innocuous cover for covert activities, and thereby, a little less likely to be targeted by artillery.

In any case, if the captive animals are not direct casualties of war violence, then those that remain – especially after their human handlers have fled – more often than not, die from prolonged hunger and eventual disease. But there are also the unsung heroes, like Abu Laith in this book, whose profound love for animals compels them to risk their lives, and even their family’s well-being, to protect the animals and to keep them alive as best they can.

There are two main narrative threads in this book: the aforementioned Abu Laith, and Hakam (who was later instrumental in aiding in the rescue of the animals). If you listen to the audiobook (as I did), it is not difficult to be swept up in Abu Laith’s joviality, optimism, and enthusiasm. He firmly stood his ground, despite being outrightly threatened by radical Islamic militants and those sympathetic to them. I would say that Abu Laith truly has the heart of a lion, as much as he has the heart for a particular one at the Mosul Zoo. He truly was a rebel with a cause!

* Read for the '2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge' task: A book by or about a journalist
Profile Image for Aspen.
136 reviews35 followers
February 1, 2020
This book was very informative and inspiring. It did a wonderful job showing readers the reality of living in a war zone. I was shocked by so much of the information presented in the book, and I actually ended up doing some additional research on the war in Iraq, as well as ISIS. My goal this year is read more books outside of my comfort zone, books that will help me learn about important issues. My only problem with this book is that it did get fairly repetitive. Overall, great read, especially on audio.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
300 reviews75 followers
March 18, 2020
When Isis militants drive off the Iraqi military and take over Mosul life changes in an instant. No longer are the zoo animals the only ones living in cages. Soon women are forced to cover themselves from head to toe and a beard trim can cost a man his life. Amidst the chaos is Abu Laith, self appointed zookeeper and lover of animals, who is determined to see his both his human and fur family through the war, no matter the cost.
Profile Image for Karen Decatur.
12 reviews
March 21, 2020
Truly enjoyed this book! I like her writing style. Not my normal genre, but will read more by Louise Callaghan
921 reviews21 followers
January 12, 2020
This book is much more than a book about a zookeeper and his animals. Callaghan writes of the occupation of Mosul by Daesh, the new laws invoked that make daily life very difficult for the citizens of Mosul, the threat of constant attacks, the fear of leaving their homes in order to escape the notice of the jihadis, Iraqi history and culture.

As the fighting between the government forces and militants intensifies in Mosul, the animals in the zoo are starving. The lives of the Mosul residents are turned upside down as they now live with the constant fear of coming to the attention of the jihadis. Women who had worn western-style clothing now are required to wear the suffocating garb demanded by ISIS. A strict curfew was invoked. Food becomes scarce and very expensive. People live under the threat of constant attacks.

The story centers on Abu Laith who was always a lover of animals. He risks his life to keep the animals alive while having to make difficult decisions in order to keep his family safe. He has a special attachment to the little lion Zombie. Callaghan introduces us to Dr. Amir who is an international rescue vet that becomes aware of the dire situation of the animals in Iraq,

Callaghan performed extensive research to bring us the true story of Abu Laith and his bravery in protecting the animals of Mosul. She details the atrocities and cruelness of a country at war. But she also reveals the compassion and humaneness that can still be found among the ruins. While many thought Abu Laith should just kill the animals for meat, he refused. He truly loved and respected the animals and fought for their lives.

It was a difficult read for me. I ached for the animals who were at the mercy of humans and were fortunate to have Abu Laith fight for them. I also ached for the humans whose lives would never be normal again, people at the mercy of power-hungry, crazy people who hid under the cover of religious fanatics. It was especially painful for me as I worked with the Iraqi military and felt the aftermath of the assassination of a couple of them. Men who only wanted peace and security for their children and grandchildren.

Thank you to BookishFirst for the advance copy to review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Profile Image for Barbara.
421 reviews2 followers
January 26, 2020
Living under ISIS occupation for 2 to 3 years was a living hell for citizens of Mosul, Iraq. Almost all of the animals died from slow starvation in the city zoo. Father of Lions details the suspense and suffering of people and animals quite remarkably. I am so fortunate to live in a country where freedom is top notch. It’s hard to believe this is Louise Callaghan’s debut book. It’s an excellent idea to list all of the people at the beginning of the book along with a brief explanation of their roles.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
386 reviews
April 28, 2020
This story depicts the dangers of life under ISIS for both humans and animals. Engaging and heartbreaking at times.
Profile Image for Nicole Wagner.
276 reviews11 followers
October 4, 2019
I received this book as a free advance reader copy from the publisher, and as usual when starting a new ARC, I didn't know what to expect.

This book started out pretty slowly, introducing us to two Iraqi families and chronicling the takeover of ISIS. Far from being a journalistic commentary on Middle Eastern relations, though, the actions of ISIS are depicted as gradually moving from tiresome, to ridiculous, to outrageous, to baffling, to terrifying. Everyone does their level best to keep life as normal as possible. When it's not at all possible to maintain normalcy, the priority is on maintaining dignity. It's really interesting seeing war from this perspective, but it's a bit frustrating not knowing anything about the motivation of the perpetrators. This is likely the same way the families portrayed here felt.

The animals! I assumed they would take up much, much more real estate in this book than they did. During wartime, zoo animals fall drastically on the list of priorities. Still, they aren't forgotten. Their welfare is a nagging worry to which no one can safely attend. By the time ISIS is pushed out, the mute suffering of the animals has peaked. The lion, the bear. They should be apex predators in the wild, and instead are helpless at death's door, surrounded by corpses, filth and rubble.

Social media works a sort of bleak modern miracle, and stubborn, scrappy saviors arrive from abroad.

The moment I finished this book I began scouring the Web for pictures and videos related to this rescue. I hope there are photos in the final retail version of this book!

Profile Image for Ira Therebel.
700 reviews38 followers
January 15, 2020
I usually agree with Abu Laith that animals are better than people. But then people like him and Dr. Amir come and show that humans can be just as great as animals.

Most of the book doesn't tell much about the zoo and the animals. We are told about the ISIS occupied city Mosul in Iraq. This is where Abu Laith lives and this is where the zoo he cares so much about is located. We get to read about them struggling through 2+ years of occupation. What their daily life was and the dangers they were facing. And while going through this dangerous war times fearing for he lives of his family Abu Laith never forgets the animals in the zoo. He can't do much about them but he still manages to at least somehow to make it better for them. The parts where him and his children decide to eat less to bring food to the animals are so heartbreaking and admirable.

The fact that the book isn't just about animals but about the whole situation definitely makes this book better. It gives you the whole picture of the location and the circumstances and this is was also the best way to get to know more about Abu Laith. Sometimes when I read about war I wonder what is happening with the animals there. This book tells us.

There is this saying "not all heroes wear capes" This sure applies to Abu Laith, Dr Amir and everyone else involved who went through all these obstacles and risked their own lives in order to rescue animals.
208 reviews
November 18, 2019
I was fortunate to be randomly selected by Forge Publishers for an ARC. I debated between a three or four stars ratings for this very readable book but opted for the three. Just my personal opinion but I believe the editor needed to work with the author on shortening the back story of Abu Laith as it did not add to the book. The people of Mosul are courageous and I can't begin to imagine how they managed their daily lives. I appreciated the postscript so we were not left hanging as to what has happened to the individuals featured in the book.
Profile Image for RivkaBelle.
844 reviews
March 11, 2020
True story: picked this up because of the cover + title. The story I found on the pages inside? Wow. Just wow ... the fact that it's true made it that much more powerful.
This is recent history - I remember the invasion of Mosul - but reading about it through the perspective of a handful of people who lived through it? Incredible. While the focus is on the animals, the Mosul Zoo, it's also on the resilience and sheer dogged determination to survive of the citizens. The challenges (and dangers) these people faced, day after day, are daunting. (Or terrifying, take your pick). And the fact that they still found the emotional energy to care for some animals? And risked so much to save them? I mean ... I don't really have words.
It was hard to read at times, and while I knew the main players would "make it," there was still a sense of "how will anyone make it out of this alive?" many times. It's inspiring though, encouraging.
Profile Image for Karen.
638 reviews9 followers
January 14, 2020
What would you do in the middle of a war? Louise Callaghan, a Middle East journalist, researched and wrote this true story of Abu Laith who is responsible for a lion, a bear, his huge family and how they live in Mosul during the time that ISIS comes in and takes over.
All Abu knows about animals has been learned by watching National Geographic.

I lost count how many children he has. He was a widower and he married a widow. Both had children and they have children together. Callaghan’s descriptions of when ISIS takes over Mosul are vivid and I felt like I was there with them. I sometimes had to put the book down and take a break. These people were extraordinary. Emotions of fear, sadness, laughter, strong will and many others were felt while reading. Abu is a true hero in his quest to take care of Simba and his family. I recommend this book. It is one I will not forget. Thank you Bookish First for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Alysa Morley.
542 reviews9 followers
May 28, 2020
I'm not surprised that I liked this, as someone who loves animals. Nonfiction stories about animals are undoubtedly my favorite way to work in more nonfiction, and this one has a nice balance of narrative to break up the series stuff and add depth and complexity to the characters and story.

This story just has a lot of heart. I love animals, wildlife, nature, and basically anything of that sort, so it was really appealing to me to read about other people who loved animals, advocated for them, and wanted to help them. It was a little hard to read at times because the animals and people in the book were, at times, severely mistreated and traumatized, but it was realistic without glamorizing violence and other aspects of war. Along those lines, I appreciate this book for giving me a peek into a different culture and a different perspective on a dark time in world history.
Profile Image for Jenny.
829 reviews10 followers
January 14, 2020
Well, this was a treat of a non-fiction book. Honestly not at all what I was expecting. When I read that this story was set during the Isis occupation of Mosul, I thought it would be pretty dreary. But the author does a great job of focusing on characters (note: real people), rather than the occupation, although she does describe some pretty harrowing events, and I can't imagine living with that amount of stress for years. However the rich characters provide a wonderful focus, and the story is magnificent. Really, what one man did to protect animals (sometimes to the exasperation of his wife and FOURTEEN children) during a time of war was truly spectacular. May we all have that big a heart.
Profile Image for TheStonedMason.
166 reviews24 followers
December 10, 2019
An excellent true story of a family and a team of strangers that fight to save the animals of a neglected zoo in Mosul. An informative and dramatic look at Mosul civilians that face danger all around them due to an on-going war just outside their front doors, and facing starvation, cruelty, and violence from the occupying soldiers of the Iraq Army then Daesh and Isis. With much sacrifice and unwavering dedication, Abu Laith (Imad Sabah) gave everything he had and more to care for the animals of the Mosul Zoo after they were abandoned by their owner during the ISIS occupation. Following his instruction, his children worked just as hard as he did to provide for the animals, with only the resources contained in their small neighborhood and every step outside of the house being a life or death decision, the children pleaded for help and begged for scraps and not to feed their near-starving family or themselves but to feed the animals of the zoo. A true sense of a struggle to help the helpless. I truly enjoyed the way this non-fiction work was delivered, from the alternating perspectives to the storytelling to the dialogue. This is a good read even if you don't think you are interested in non-fiction, this story reads like fiction while delivering a recap of actual events
394 reviews2 followers
December 27, 2019
I just finished this debut book by writer Louise Callaghan titled Father of Lions: One Man’s Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo.” It is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and all those who love animals will enjoy reading about the lengths that Abu Leith and Dr. Amir, the vet who plays a vital role in the story, went to save the animals. It is a story that tugs at the heart as you think about and feel sorrow for the people of Mosul and what they had to endure in the midst of a religious war. This is a true story that reads like a novel and is written with a heart full of compassion and insight. I applaud the author.
Profile Image for Paul C. Stalder.
334 reviews15 followers
January 11, 2020
A poignant reminder of the human side of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, as well as the suffering humanity inflicts on the species we share this planet with. Although the title focuses on the zoo, the characters are at the heart of this tale; strong individuals who stand up to the powers that be. Resilience is found on each page. Well-told. Well-received.
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