Father of Lions: Book summary and reviews of Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan

Father of Lions

One Man's Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo

by Louise Callaghan

Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan X
Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan
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About this book

Book Summary

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.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. When ISIS takes over Mosul and the Iraqi army evacuates, Abu Laith and his family try to run away, though they have to go back. Hakam and his family don't even try to leave. Would you stay or would you try to run?
  2. Though there are common struggles and events, Abu Laith and his family have a very different experience of the years living under siege than Hakam and his family do. Why do you think that is?
  3. Lumia is often angry with Abu Laith for thinking about the animals when she thinks he should be prioritizing his family because they're humans and deserve his help before the animals do, but Abu Laith believes that if you don't have mercy on animals you cannot be a good person. Who do you agree with? Is it possible to agree with both Lumia and Abu Laith?
  4. Abu Laith's children are all very concerned about the animals' well-being. Why do you think this is? Are they emulating their father? Is it just that kids love animals? Or is it something else altogether?
  5. The children think Mother is evil for attacking Warda and for eating Father. Abu Laith says it's just animal instinct, though her actions clearly upset him. Do you agree with the children or with Abu Laith?
  6. This book depicts many different ways of being religious. For example, there is Abu Laith, who is religious but "hates the trappings of organized religion with a deep passion." He clearly believes in God and is greatly angered by religious hypocrites, but refuses to go to the mosque to pray. Many people in the book, such as Abu Hareth, think this akin to blasphemy. Do you agree? Can there be more than one right way to worship the same god?
  7. Throughout the book Zombie, Lula, and Warda behave in surprisingly human-like ways, such as when Zombie knows to stay quiet in the truck, or when Lula mourns for her son. If you had to, would you say that these similarities come from animals having human instincts or from humans not having left all our animal instincts behind?
  8. Every time a new force comes into Mosul—the American army, ISIS, the Iraqi army—the citizens of Mosul are treated as the enemy. Soldiers would say this is necessary. Do you agree? Even if it is necessary, is it fair?
  9. It's widely known that ISIS recruits all over the world, but the group is usually portrayed in Western media as backwards-thinking Middle Eastern fanatics. Yet Hakam, Lumia, and Abu Laith all notice that many of the most extreme ISIS members are the foreign ones. What does this say to you?
  10. Caring about animals is used as a litmus test for being a good person throughout this story. Do you agree with that?
  11. If you had to distill one moral from this book, what would it be?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Forge Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"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.

The information about Father of Lions shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Carole C. (Newtown Square, PA)

Father of Lions
As an animal lover, I really enjoyed this book. I think it would appeal to a larger audience though. It's not just an animal story. It also tells the story of what it's like living in Iraq under ISIS control. Louise Callaghan shares the true story of a man named Abu Laith who lives among this devastation and horror. However, he shows us what strength and determination can accomplish even when things seem hopeless.

This is a well written book that also seems to be very well researched. Instead of just giving us a grim story about ISIS' occupation in Iraq (which I'm not sure many would want to read on it's own), Callaghan gives us a very readable tale that shows the humanity of people many of us don't understand.

I think this book would lead to some great discussions for a book club.

Diane T. (Slingerlands, NY)

Father of Lions
Writing your first book is a daunting undertaking. Consider that this is a true story in the middle of a religious war where humanity is at the bottom of the list. Throw in the determination of one man who, foregoing personal and familial safety, is determined to save whatever animals are still alive at the Mosal Zoo and you have an unforgettable story of faith, kindness and inner strength.

Louise Callaghan has produced a narrative of immeasurable courage, insight and love. "Father of Lions" is more than one book. There is the story of the ISIS occupation and atrocities that happened in Mosul, a story that you don't get in an evening news expose. You have within that narrative two families struggling to just survive and the story within those two families of one man's love of animals and determination to save those still alive.

Hard to believe? Please put this book on your list of "to read" to experience what possibilities we can all be capable of in the face of destruction. Bravo Louise for writing harsh realities yet allowing a small spark of hope to take hold, to make sure that we all understand that although atrocities are what is publicized, there are still humanitarian individuals, in this case animal advocates, who desperately believe in dignity and "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."

Emily C. (Naples, FL)

Much More Than A Story About Animals
I selected to review this title because I am a fan of animals. I hold to Abu Laith's belief that, "Within every living being...there was a personality, a life with needs and likes and things they hated".However, journalist Louise Callaghan has written a book that is so much more.

In addition to detailing how Abu Laith, known as the Father of Lions, tended the animals in the Mosul Zoo, where his own lion Zombie lived, she has written a detailed account of the horrors and perils of life in an ISIS-controlled corner of Iraq.

With bombs and mortar shells pounding the neighborhood, with the scarcity of food and other living essentials, Abu Laith put his own life in danger to save the few remaining animals in the heavily attacked Mosul Zoo. When someone asked him why he didn't kill the zoo animals for meat for his family, Abu Laith responded, "You don't eat animals who have earned your respect. We all went hungry to keep them alive. That's what respect is".

This is a book that inspires and demonstrates that respect for life, love, and devotion to human life exists in the midst of a hate-filled nightmare.

Lil C. (Chestertown, NY)

Things we do not know...
As I started each chapter, I shook my head in disbelief. The world Abu Laith lives in is frighteningly complicated. Rules change with each new invasion, yet Abu Laith remains true to his passion...save the animals. I will continue to fear for the lives of humans and animals in this unpredictable part of the world...Mosul. My eyes are wide opened!

Diane S. (Batavia, IL)

Father of lions
What an absolutely incredible story. A true story full of heart, living under ISIS, war, hope and those who care, even putting themselves in danger for a few helpless animals.

Mosul was once a vibrant city, a 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 Baghdad, 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."

Barbara E. (Rockville, MD)

Father of Lions
This is a fascinating and sobering tale of life under Isis in Mosul and one man's devotion to animals. It is populated with intriguing characters who are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, but always human. Parts of the book are especially harrowing when Isis takes control and it is especially illuminating on the effect on ordinary citizen's lives. This book is well-written and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves animals, cares about their welfare, and has an interest in the devastation wrecked by Isis.

...12 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Louise Callaghan

Louise Callaghan is the Middle East Correspondent for the Sunday Times (UK), one of the youngest ever hired. She made Forbes' Europe 30 under 30 in media 2018 list, has won the Marie Colvin Award for British Journalism, and young reporter of the year at the 2016 British Press Awards and the 2017 British Journalism Awards.

She's been featured in The Sunday Times Magazine, Vogue, Newsweek, the Times Literary Supplement and more. Father of Lions is her first book.

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