The BookBrowse Review

Published January 22, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Father of Lions
One Man's Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo
by Louise Callaghan
14 Jan 2020
400 pages
Publisher: Forge Books
ISBN-13: 9781250248947
Genre: Biography/Memoir
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BookBrowse members resident in the USA can request free review copies of books through our First Impressions program. Below are their opinions on one such book...

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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."
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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 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!
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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."
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Paula K. (Champaign, IL)

A Rich Portrait of Life Under A Siege
Louise Callaghan has written an excellent and very readable book that, while focusing for the most part Abu Laith and his efforts to protect the animals of the Mosul Zoo during the long ISIS occupation, is so much more than a portrait of how ordinary citizens coped during that time. Like the caged animals, Moslawnis primarily were confined to their homes, whether by edict or choice. Women, especially those who were not young children or old, were vulnerable to the whims of the invaders, in spite of having to cover every part of their bodies except their eyes. Callaghan draws in her readers so that we experience the hardships, the tensions, and the quiet courage of people who could have been us. Father of Lions will speak to a wide range of readers, and will continue to haunt me.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Rene M. (NC)

Make Room On Your Bookshelf
When I start reading a new book if the words flow smoothly and the author captures my attention then there is a good chance the rest of the book will follow suit. This book does not disappoint. Louise Callaghan did her homework and pieced together a true story that reads like a novel. I encourage any reader, no matter how they feel about zoos in general (pro or con) to read this story because it about so much more. There was one part in the story where the reader is introduced to Dr. Amir, the vet who plays a vital role in animal rescues. The essence of the book is captured in the thoughts of Dr. Amir when he thought that 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. Too often we chose one side and neglect the other.

Make room on your bookshelf because this first book by Louise Callaghan is a must-read.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Beverly D. (Palm Harbor, FL)

Trying to live a "normal" life in Mosul during the Daesh occupation, the main character, Abu Laith, focused on saving the animals in the Mosul zoo...his special friends...sometimes to the detriment of his family. The research and commitment of the author to take the reader to an unknown place was astonishing. To get this perspective on the Taliban occupation was educational as well as necessary. The families whose stories are told here bring us into their nightmare. Highly recommended for book clubs that enjoy non-fiction.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Kristen H. (Hagerstown, MD)

Humanity Prevails
Louise Callaghan did a wonderful job writing a story that is over a thousand miles away yet it can certainly be applied anywhere in the world and still seem so foreign to many of us. The story is very well written in where you can certainly sympathize with all the characters. Each one has a story that intertwines with Abu Laith - the main character in the story. His love of animals began at a young age and it allowed him to be passionate during a most tumultuous time in his life. This story took a nasty part of war and showed us a small bit of humanity, that at times was torn apart but still prevailed.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Diane Y. (West Chester, PA)

Father of Lions: Storytelling at Its Best
Louise Callahan devoted a big chunk of her life to tracking down this true story and writing it. I, for one, am grateful. The backdrop of Iraq during Isis' reign was horrifying. I now have a much better understanding of the impact of their inhumane tactics on the citizens. The food shortage, constant attacks and unpredictable checkpoints made survival a huge challenge. Abu Laith, one of the most unique characters I've "met", loved his lion Zombie beyond reason. Despite the circumstances of his large immediate family, he did everything humanly possible to make sure Zombie and the other abandoned zoo animals survived. The facts are not Disneyesque, just real and often unsavory. This journalistic masterpiece is detailed yet intriguing. I found myself returning to its pages when I should have been doing my own chores.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by MJD,NY

Father of Lions
Sad story about the effects of a brutal war (ISIS) on families & the zoo animals. Abu Laith was obsessed with trying to keep the animals alive, even at the expense of the safety of himself & his own family. The beginning of the book was a bit hard to get into & the names difficult to keep straight but the List of characters was a great resource. The ending had you on the edge of your seat wondering what would happen.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Erin J. (Milwaukie, OR)

Survival in a war zone doesn't come easily
Father of Lions is a fascinating glimpse into life in Mosul before, during, and after ISIS (Daesh) control. Until the last quarter of the book or so, it focused far less on the zoo and the few animals struggling to survive than it did on the humans, however. I hadn't expected this, so it seemed almost like reading a civilian survival story and its animal-rescue-themed sequel. Louise Callaghan has done an amazing job of evoking the tense, dusty waiting and mortar-driven hiding inherent in an urban battlefield. Her pacing intensifies throughout, although sometimes the timeline gets a bit confusing with seasons apparently passing during the span of days. For a Western reader many thousands of miles from the fighting, however, Callaghan's portrayal brings the conflict down to a comprehensible human (and feline/ursine) level. It should appeal to anyone interested in either animal welfare or the fight against ISIS.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Gayle C. (Harris, MN)

Living in a war zone
A tough read for me, not just because of the animals and what happened to them. The story about the people and living in a war zone controlled by brutal and insane people -- one army of them after another -- was eye-opening and awful. The fact that the story was told in a factual way that almost made it seem like the backstory to the zoo and not intended to sound horrifying only made me understand better how life could be lived under those conditions. The risks people must take to eat, live, protect family, and protect what's important to them is wrenching and inspiring.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Suzanne G. (Tucson, AZ)

Not a typical story—
This book has a story that is not only informative but interesting and has been well written. The research is evident. I had no problems understanding this is a true story. It confirmed the frightening times those who worked with the Father of Lions had while saving the zoo animals. The character listing was appreciated since the names were so unfamiliar. Learning about the region gave me a better knowledge of the citizens of the Middle East. I liked the book and found there was often humor. I think most anyone can enjoy it.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Gloria F. (York, PA)

A great read for lovers of animals and current events
Thank you, Louise Callaghan, for preserving the story of Abu Laith in "Father of Lions: One Man's Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo." It is wonderful to read how people who love animals can all come together to save them, especially during a conflict that puts their lives at risk. But this story is about more than animals. It's also about how the people who lived in Mosul endured the fighting and destruction of their city. It gives the reader a much-needed prospective on life in a war zone.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Donna W. (Wauwatosa, WI)

Father of Lions
This was a very interesting book. As I started reading, I thought I would be reading a book devoted entirely to animals. Instead I was thrown into the horrors associated with the Iraqi war. I learned a lot about the history, traditions, and people of Iraq.

I enjoyed the book. I had trouble getting into it, and never really formed an attachment to the main characters, but it told a riveting story. The book's main focus was on saving the Mosul zoo and it's animals, and the telling of this event led to a moving and satisfying conclusion.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Susanna K. (Willow Street, PA)

This title was captivating - a Zoo in Mosul being saved! Very catchy and inviting to a reader who loves zoos and wondered how it was saved in a place that was decidedly a war zone! The pages that followed were an immersion in the horrors of the Iraqi-Islamic State confrontation centered in this city. How the people tried to protect themselves from the rules Isis enforced was beyond comprehension. During all this chaos and fear, one man persevered trying to save his beloved animals. At times you will be cheering, at others holding your breath. All in all it is a good read!
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Valerie C. (Chico, CA)

Good, but the foreign names are hard to follow at first
I did not find this book terribly engaging. It is well written and researched.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Paula B. (Albuquerque, NM)

Desperate Desire
This story of human resilience, in the face of religious fanaticism, shows that survival in the worst circumstances is possible, if neither predictable nor perfect. The author impresses the grinding reality of war upon the reader, with a few positive results,but there is no fairy tale ending. The futility of much that the characters work to achieve makes this a disheartening tale. Humanity is happiest and most confident when we believe we control at least part of our life. War proves to these characters that they have no control and that whatever success they achieve is merely the result of random events. A savior of sorts appears to help the father of lions, but he too is subject to the illogical, whimsy of petty officials and the military. Although the book may masquerade as a feel good book, it is not. It is an expose' of the helter skelter nature of life, exacerbated by war.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Peggy K. (San Marcos, CA)

Desert zoo
Abu Laith had a dream. This poor mechanic wanted to create a zoo in Mosul right in the middle of a war. Nothing would stop him despite the cultural dislike of animals.

What slowly became a reality became a race to save these animals in the aftereffects of war. With the help of a sympathetic scientist he is able to succeed and this book is his story.

A well written, if a bit slow, tale. Readers 16 and up may enjoy this story. Book clubs may want to talk about home grown zoos.


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