When Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell to ISIS, the ongoing fighting between militants and government forces decimated most of Mosul’s attractions. The small zoo remained open, but as the violence continued the animals began to starve. Abu Laith, “father of lions,” was an animal lover and self-taught zoologist and zookeeper, and as conditions got worse he and his family began to scrounge as much food for the animals as they could find.
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.