Incredibly sad, but based on truth – “Pride of Baghdad” by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon
In 2003, American troops bombed Baghdad. Amongst the chaos of the explosions, a group of lions and other zoo animals were set free from the Baghdad Zoo and wandered the rubble of the city completely free. In the cleanup efforts, American troops gathered many of these animals and took them back into captivity. A few lions, however, wouldn’t come so easily and were shot by the troops.
This incredibly heart-breaking (and true) incident was the inspiration for Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichson’s award-winning graphic novel, “Pride of Baghdad.” It’s not a happy story. If I had any previous knowledge of this real-life incident, I likely would not have read this book at all – but I did, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Vaughan (who is credited with writing the story) makes a smart choice to personalize the four lions we are to journey along with. Zill is the alpha-male, Safa is an older lioness who is nearly blind, Noor is a younger lioness who (pre-bombing) hatches plans to get free, and is also the mother to the youngest of the pride, Ali. These animals talk to each other and their personalities and backstories shine. As they wander the nearly-abandoned city, they encounter other loose animals; horses, monkeys, and another lion.
Henrichon (the illustrator) has an obviously deep understanding of the power that visuals lend to a graphic novel. Though it’s often said of horror movies that the things you don’t actually see are the most atrocious, I challenge anyone to tell me the last few pages of “Pride of Baghdad” aren’t horrifying and soul-crushing. This isn’t one of those last-second happy twist endings.
I have a feeling that, years from now, when I’m asked about truly sad books I’ve read along the way, this is one that’ll come to mind. That said, it’s a powerful (if fictionalized) reminder of the savage nature of both animals and human. Animals may eat each other, but humans (and their wars) aren’t much better.