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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.

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Historical fiction
View all
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women
The Women
The Lion Women of Tehran
Shelterwood
All We Were Promised
Spitting Gold
The Mayor of Maxwell Street
The Great Divide
The Storm We Made
The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard
Lessons in Chemistry
The Frozen River
What We Kept to Ourselves
The River We Remember
Take My Hand
The Last Russian Doll
The First Ladies
The House Is On Fire
River Sing Me Home
The People We Keep
The Attic Child
Malibu Rising
The Book of Longings
Hester
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
The Nightingale
Daisy Jones & The Six
The Lincoln Highway
The Secret Book of Flora Lea
Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?
The Circus Train
Peach Blossom Spring
Hang the Moon
Booth
The Good Left Undone
Sisters in Arms
The Perishing
The Postmistress of Paris
The Family
Things We Lost to the Water
The Spectacular
Still Life
Send for Me
The Magnolia Palace
The Bookbinder
China Room
This Tender Land
Atomic Love
All the Light We Cannot See
The Vanishing Half
Outlawed
The Four Winds
Independence
The Fountains of Silence
Libertie
Queen of Thieves
The Great Believers
The Clockmaker's Daughter
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Great Alone
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
The Paris Hours
The Heart's Invisible Furies
Rules of Civility
Circling the Sun
The Moor's Account
Jacqueline in Paris
Don't Cry for Me
The Christie Affair
Bloomsbury Girls
The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
Bronze Drum