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The Lion Women of Tehran by Marjan Kamali

Historical fiction

The Lion Women of Tehran

Early Release

This is an early release that's only available to our members—the rest of the world has to wait to read it.

by Marjan Kamali

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Quick take

A rapidly transforming Iran plays backdrop to this drama about the evolution of a complex friendship between two girls.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Feminist

    Feminist

  • Illustrated icon, Family_Drama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Female_Friendship

    Female friendships

  • Illustrated icon, International

    International

Synopsis

In 1950s Tehran, seven-year-old Ellie lives in grand comfort until the untimely death of her father, forcing Ellie and her mother to move to a tiny home downtown. Lonely and bearing the brunt of her mother’s endless grievances, Ellie dreams of a friend to alleviate her isolation.

Luckily, on the first day of school, she meets Homa, a kind, passionate girl with a brave and irrepressible spirit. Together, the two girls play games, learn to cook in the stone kitchen of Homa’s warm home, wander through the colorful stalls of the Grand Bazaar, and share their ambitions for becoming “lion women.”

But their happiness is disrupted when Ellie and her mother are afforded the opportunity to return to their previous bourgeois life. Now a popular student at the best girls’ high school in Iran, Ellie’s memories of Homa begin to fade. Years later, however, her sudden reappearance in Ellie’s privileged world alters the course of both of their lives.

Together, the two young women come of age and pursue their own goals for meaningful futures. But as the political turmoil in Iran builds to a breaking point, one earth-shattering betrayal will have enormous consequences.

Content warning

This book contains mentions of sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Lion Women of Tehran.

The Lion Women of Tehran

ONE

December 1981

I stood on the lacquered floor—a small woman in black with a rectangular name badge on my chest. My coiffed, contented look was calculated so I’d appear not just satisfied but quietly superior. In America, I’d learned the secret to being a successful salesperson was to act like one of the elite, as if spritzing perfume on customers’ blue-veined wrists were doing them a favor.

A sea of haughty New Yorkers swerved to avoid my spray. Thank God for the more down-to-earth women—the cooks and bakers coming up to the first floor from the basement home goods section—they were too polite to reject the fragrant droplets I offered. Orange, lily, jasmine, and rose notes nestled in the lines of my palms and the fibers of my clothes.

“Look at you, Ellie! Soon you’ll take over this whole brand. I better watch my back!” My friend and coworker Angela, returning from her cigarette break, sidled up and whispered in my ear. The scent of her Hubba Bubba gum couldn’t hide the smoke on her breath.

I shivered at the reek of tobacco. The bitter, sour notes would forever remind me of one long-ago night in Iran. The night when an act of betrayal changed the entire course of my friendship with Homa and both of our lives.

From the moment I’d read Homa’s letter last night, I’d been a wreck.

I batted away Angela’s compliments, said I wasn’t doing all that well, really, and that I had a headache because I hadn’t eaten all day.

I just might faint,” I added with a touch of melodrama.

It was a relief when Angela was whisked away by a needy customer.

My mother always said the envy of others invites the evil eye to cast doom on us. She’d often told me that being perceived as too competent, happy, or successful could summon misfortune. I knew belief in the powers of other people’s jealousy and the jinxing of an evil eye needed to be cast off. But at the age of thirty-eight, in the middle of that massive Manhattan department store, I was still unwittingly beholden to superstition.

The truth of who I was could not be escaped. Nor could the flaw I had spent years trying to quash and erase.

The guilty one had always been me.

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Why I love it

I don’t typically gravitate toward historical fiction, but when I do read a new book in the genre, I occasionally find myself amazed by an author’s ability to transport, inform, and capture universal themes within a bygone world. The Lion Women of Tehran is one of those books that amazed me, leaving an indelible impression.

Set in the 1950s, seven-year-old Ellie has lived in comfort for most of her life until her father passes away suddenly, forcing Ellie and her mother to move. Everything changes in Ellie’s life—including her school. On the very first day of school, Ellie meets Homa, and the two become instant friends, sharing secrets, playing games, and sharing their dreams. But when Ellie and her mother are offered an opportunity to return to their old life, they leave behind their tiny home and Ellie’s friendship with Homa quickly becomes a distant memory. Years later, Ellie and Homa cross paths again. As they come of age together during a time when political turmoil is building in Iran, they’ll learn that their lives will forever be changed by the course of their friendship.

The Lion Women of Tehran deserves a place on anyone’s shelf who is looking for a compelling historical read that is at its heart about friendship. Marjan Kamali weaves an emotional tale about the power of friendship and resilience during a time of political unrest and I’m sure it will leave you as mesmerized as it left me.

Member ratings (2,705)

  • Lisa L.

    Denver, CO

    “Kite Runner” vibes with social justice commentary woven within each chapter. This story starts as a friendship is introduced and turns into the fight for freedom and women’s rights. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️!

  • PFC Shotts G.

    APO, AE

    I am not usually one to enjoy the historical fiction genre, but this book truly moved me. I felt as though I knew these characters, each with such relatable qualities. Moved me to tears. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Sara B.

    Maple Grove, MN

    Needed a change of scenery from 🌶️ &🧝🧝‍♀️🧝‍♂️.. this book did not disappoint. The story was very captivating and I loved the development of the characters. The last chapter fell kinda flat.

  • Nicole Z.

    Los Angeles, CA

    This book was masterful in capturing my culture and the stories I’ve heard from my family who immigrated from Iran. I cried! Loved the narration of friendship, history, and courage! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Jan F.

    Nampa, ID

    We should all be so fortunate as to have a friendship with a “Lion Woman” like Homa! Her resilience and determination truly made her a heroine. Kamali describes Iran in a beautiful, tragic way. ❤️

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