Excerpt from Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Discuss |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 400 pages

    Jan 2021, 416 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

'They need meat,' he would spit. 'Fresh meat, only just dead.'

Abu Laith was in his element. Soon, he hoped, he would have raised enough funds to start building his own park on the plot of land he had bought next door to the zoo, which for the moment lay empty. When it was done, these animals would be able to run free, rather than being cooped up in those small, hot cages.

It would begin with the lion. By early 2014, Abu Laith had for six months been the proud owner of a lion cub. The little lion had tawny orange fur, and a notch on his upper lip where he had caught it on some chicken wire that Abu Laith had ill-advisedly used to protect his cage from stick-wielders and other disturbers of the peace.

The lion cub was his first acquisition for the new zoo – the first animal that would be truly his, and not Ibrahim's. He had first met the cub in Ahmed's house, which lay about half an hour east of the Old City. Ahmed worked at the zoo, and he infuriated Abu Laith, who disliked the way he always wore tracksuits and his disdain for the proper feeding habits of animals.

For some time, Abu Laith had expected that Ahmed might be hiding something from him regarding the pregnancy of a lioness who had been brought to the zoo two years before with her mate. Abu Laith suspected that when the lioness gave birth, Ahmed would try to steal her offspring and sell the cubs without the knowledge of the zoo's owner.

While he might often turn a blind eye to some stealing, Abu Laith was not going to be cheated out of a lion. As a self-styled manager of Ibrahim's zoo, he had decided early on that he had a claim on the lion cubs, and had arranged to buy as many of them as he could once the lioness gave birth.

Though he had never seen them in the wild, Abu Laith knew a lot about lions courtesy of National Geographic. He knew, for example, that lions sharpened their claws on stones, and that they liked to sleep after dinner.

All Ahmed knew about, he thought, was money. So when one day the pregnant lion started looking a bit skinnier again, with no sign of the cubs, Abu Laith suspected immediately that something was up. Biding his time, he waited on the street outside his house until Ahmed's eldest son walked past.

'Son,' Abu Laith called nonchalantly. 'Do you know where your father is keeping the lion cubs?'

'They're at home,' said the boy.

It wasn't long before Abu Laith was parking his large American car outside Ahmed's house, a small building with a garage. Inside the garage sat Ahmed, who was peering into a modest brick structure containing two very small lions, each no bigger than a loaf of bread.

Abu Laith was furious. 'Why did you separate them from their mother?' he shouted, as he stormed into the room. 'Now if she sees them, she'll smell human on their fur, and she'll eat them.'

Ahmed, lounging in his tracksuit, didn't seem to care. 'Which one do you want, then?' he asked, clearly exasperated that he'd been rumbled.

Abu Laith crouched down and cast a professional eye over the lions. Moving slowly, so he wouldn't scare them, he opened the door to their enclosure. Immediately, one of the cubs jumped out and on to a white plastic chair that stood in the middle of the garage.

'This one is mine,' he declared, beaming at the young lion, who looked back at him calmly. Within a matter of days, Abu Laith had installed the lion in a cage next door to his parents in Ibrahim's zoo.

After a period of consideration, he decided to name the cub after the lion in a cartoon about African animals that he had watched with his children, complete with mistranslated Arabic subtitles. He would call him Zombie.

Immediately, he set to work training the lion. He taught Zombie to sit quietly outside the cage when it was being cleaned. When he told him to go back into the cage, Zombie would obey. The cub knew not to bother the other animals in the zoo. Across the way from Zombie lived the two brown bears, Lula and her mate. The male bear was admirably strong, Abu Laith thought, and very protective of Lula. When the zookeepers had once tried to move him into a separate cage from his female companion, he had roared and fought so much they had given up.

Excerpted from Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan. Copyright © 2020 by Louise Callaghan. Excerpted by permission of Forge Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: A Mystery of Mysteries
    A Mystery of Mysteries
    by Mark Dawidziak
    Edgar Allan Poe biographers have an advantage over other writers because they don't have to come up ...
  • Book Jacket: Moonrise Over New Jessup
    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks
    Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially...
  • Book Jacket
    The Magician's Daughter
    by H.G. Parry
    "Magic isn't there to be hoarded like dragon's treasure. Magic is kind. It comes into ...
  • Book Jacket: The Great Displacement
    The Great Displacement
    by Jake Bittle
    On August 4, 2021, California's largest single wildfire to date torched through the small mountain ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nurse's Secret
by Amanda Skenandore
A fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America's first nursing school.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost English Girl
    by Julia Kelly

    A story of love, betrayal, and motherhood set against the backdrop of World War II and the early 1960s.

  • Book Jacket

    The God of Endings
    by Jacqueline Holland

    A suspenseful debut that weaves a story of love, history and myth through the eyes of one immortal woman.

Who Said...

I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking something up and finding something else ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

R Peter T P P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.