Callaghan pieces together the three-year occupation of Mosul remarkably well through the interlinked stories of the irrepressible Abu Laith ... At times the writing can be a little pat ... some of her best, most revealing passages are nothing to do with rescuing animals. An award-winning Middle East correspondent for The Sunday Times, Callaghan knows her way around a war. Her portrayal of a city under siege is many-layered and brilliantly told. The gallows humour and defiance of Mosulis in the most desperate circumstances will appeal to British readers ... Part feelgood yarn, part portrait of terror and resistance ... [a] heart-warming romp, though, than landmark work of investigative reportage.
The horror of the zoo’s residents, caught in their cages and slowly starving, is well rendered by journalist Callaghan, as is Abu Laith’s resiliency and determination ... With the pacing of a thriller and touches of humor, Callaghan’s tale of animal-focused bravery under fire is both wrenching and charming.
Marwan, the young assistant, and Abu Laith went to enormous measures to try to keep the animals fed as well as safe from visitors, efforts that the author narrates capably. In brisk chapters that move back and forth among her protagonists, Callaghan also tells the story of Hakam Zarari, a former government scientist, and his family, who were horrified by the brutal methods of IS ... An engaging yet heartbreaking narrative that reads like fiction.
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.