'Callaghan's portrayal of a city under siege is many-layered and brilliantly told' Sunday Times
As ISIS laid terrible siege to Mosul, a zoo on the eastern edge of the Tigris was kept open against all odds. Under the stern hand of the zookeeper Abu Laith, whose name – loosely translated – means Father of Lions, its animals faced not only years of occupation, but starvation and bombardment by the liberating forces. Father of Lions is the story of Mosul Zoo: of resilience and human decency in the midst of barbarism.
'Father of Lions captures, with heartbreaking poignancy, the human cost of these conflicts' Josie Ensor, Middle East Correspondent for the Daily Telegraphy
'Through the story of a man who loves both lions and life, Louise Callaghan shows how humour and defiance can counter cruelty' Lindsey Hilsum, author of In Extremis
Callaghan, Middle East correspondent for The Sunday Times, exposes the perils of life under ISIS for both humans and animals. In June 2014, the Islamic State, heavily undermanned but full of "religious bloodlust," attacked the government forces in Mosul, Iraq, forcing them to abandon the city. Callaghan details how the residents of Mosul fought to keep themselves alive during the two-and-a-half-year siege, among them Abu Laith, known as the Father of Lions, a larger-than-life mechanic with a brood of kids and fiery wife. Laith acts as caretaker for the Mosul Zoo, home of his own lion, Zombie, which he raised from a cub. While hiding from the insurgents, Laith tries to keep the animals from starving with the help of a young, shiftless man named Marwan. The narrative takes time to build, but Callaghan creates a detailed and nuanced account of life in an ISIS-controlled corner of Iraq. The well-researched narrative builds a powerful finale after Mosul has been liberated and an Indiana Jones like Egyptian veterinarian named Dr. Amir takes an interest in the zoo. Callaghan's intense story of saving a zoo serves as a human look at life in a war-torn city.