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Summary and book 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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  • Published:
    Jan 2020, 400 pages

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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.

1
Abu Laith

Abu Laith was not the kind of man to let another man insult his lion. Especially not a man who looked like this.

He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, well pressed, and had the air of a civil servant. He carried a baby in the crook of his left arm. In his right hand he held a reed, plucked from the banks of the River Tigris, which he was using to poke Abu Laith's newly acquired lion cub, who was asleep in his cage.

The man's wife and the rest of his children stood nearby, watching sullenly. Despite his efforts, the poking was having no measurable effect on the lion, who wasn't moving at all. All of this registered in Abu Laith's mind as he ran at full pelt through the zoo towards the man, who had not seen him coming.

It was around 7.30 p.m. in the zoo by the Tigris, and the dusk was settling pink over Mosul's Old City. Families were sitting outside the zoo cafe drinking cold Pepsi and glasses of tea. The bears were reclining in their cages as Abu Laith charged past.

'What are ...

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 ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about Father of Lions.
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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?
Different socioeconomic levels and education levels, as well as our childhoods, color our responses to situations. - BuffaloGirl

Abu Laith tells the children they’ll have to "go hungry sometimes to feed the animals." Some might think telling children they’ll have to go hungry is taking things too far. Do you agree or disagree?
It would be terrible to watch the animals starve, but it would be worse to see your children go hungry. That being said, there really didn't seem to be instances where he literally took food away from his children and gave it to the animals. - Junebug

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?
A child’s initial response to animals seems to be curiosity and then to emulate their parents. If their parents love and care for animals, the children will, also. If the parents are scared of animals, the child most likely will, also. If the ... - BuffaloGirl

Both Dr. Amir and Abu Laith care deeply about the animals, but they differ in their approach and thinking. Can you think of any noticeable differences between the two men in their approach to animal husbandry?
Dr Amir was an educated vet and had much more education than Abu Laith on animal husbandry. Abu Laith got most of his animal education from watching the National Geographic channel which generally shows animals in their natural habitat. Abu Laith had... - kellyo

Caring about animals is used as a litmus test for being a good person throughout this story. Do you agree with that?
While I agree cruelty to animals definitely put a person in the ‘bad’ category, there’s a big difference between cruelty to animals, and simply not caring about them. - jennie r

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 (Barbara E). 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 (Gloria F). Louise Callaghan has produced a narrative of immeasurable courage, insight and love (Diane T)...continued

Full Review Members Only (618 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Callaghan’s intense story of saving a zoo serves as a human look at life in a war-torn city.

Booklist
With the pacing of a thriller and touches of humor, Callaghan's tale of animal-focused bravery under fire is both wrenching and charming.

Kirkus Reviews
An engaging yet heartbreaking narrative that reads like fiction.

Library Journal (starred review)
Recommended for readers seeking a more nuanced understanding of the complexities inherent to this region.

Author Blurb Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor, Channel 4 News and author of In Extremis: the life of war correspondent Marie Colvin
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.

Reader Reviews

Linda

NF that reads like a novel
How do families survive when their city is occupied by terrorists? And how could a zoo of wild animals make it through such difficult times? I really enjoyed this book. I had read almost half of it, when I noticed on the book jacket that it was ...   Read More

Rebecca

More then a book about a zoo
This is by far one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s so much more than a book about a man and his zoo. I learned so much about the occupation of Mosul by Isis, the relationship between Sunni and Shia, the impotency of the Iraqi ...   Read More

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...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mosul Before, During and After ISIS Occupation

Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city after Baghdad, lies on the banks of the Tigris River. Mosul's current boundaries encompass the remains of the old Assyrian city of Nineveh, and signs of civilization in the area date back as far as 8,000 years ago. From the 8th century onward, Mosul was considered a key cultural and economic hub, and it continued to build its influence during a series of dynasties lasting through the 12th century. It has since been the site of several conflicts and takeovers, including a Mongol invasion in 1258, Ottoman Turk rule from 1534 to 1918, British occupation after World War I, a U.S. raid in 2003 that led to the killing of Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay Hussein, and ISIS control from 2014 through 2017.

Father of Lions ...

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