MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Reader reviews and comments on Father of Lions, plus links to write your own review.

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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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  • Published:
    Jan 2020, 400 pages


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There are currently 24 reader reviews for Father of Lions
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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.
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.
Power Reviewer
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.
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.
Diane Y. (West Chester, PA)

Father of Lions: Storytelling at Its Best
Louise Callaghan 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.
Power Reviewer
Betty Taylor

Amazing True Story
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.

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.
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.
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