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The Lion Women of Tehran


The Lion Women of Tehran

Writing about revolution and political upheaval, and capturing the nuance of the situation and all the complex dynamics, is always a challenge, even for seasoned historians and journalists. It is an area in which fiction, perhaps surprisingly, can be illuminating. Not because a novel can provide exact details and analysis, but because it can shed light on the humanity of the conflict and the ways in which lives are impacted.

Marjan Kamali’s new book, THE LION WOMEN OF TEHRAN, does just that. It gives readers insight into lives led during difficult times by placing fictional characters in historic situations and giving them space to react and respond. The setting here is contemporary Iran, beginning in the summer of 1950. Elaheh and Homa are two unlikely friends whose relationship witnesses the tribulations and possibilities of a nation on the brink of transformation.

"More than a tale of friendship or a coming-of-age story, [THE LION WOMEN OF TEHRAN is] a beautifully crafted and subtle exploration of love, family, friendship, ambition, betrayal and redemption in a socio-political powder keg."

Elaheh, almost always called Ellie, is descended from Persian royalty. But in her day-to-day life she is just a seven-year-old mourning the loss of her father and struggling to understand her mercurial mother. Ellie and her mother fall on hard times and are settled in a lower class neighborhood by Ellie’s uncle Massoud, whose relationship with her mother is confusing and tense. But Ellie is thrilled to start school and overjoyed when she becomes friends with the brash and brave Homa.

The two grow up together, inspire each other in school, share their successes, and are encouraging after failures. Homa’s family welcomes Ellie, and in their home Ellie finds a model of familial love and acceptance she doesn’t have with her mother. Ellie’s mother looks down on Homa but never forbids the friendship. Through high school to university, the two pursue their dreams even as Iran changes --- often dangerously --- around them.

The wheels set in motion with the 1953 coup set a course for the 1979 Revolution in Iran. Homa’s father, a communist, is jailed, and Homa herself grows up to be an activist interested in studying law and becoming a judge. She is an avowed communist like her father. Though Ellie doesn’t always understand or agree with Homa’s politics, she respects her friend. But a fateful political conversation, believed to be innocent, sets a trap, altering their friendship and the trajectory of their lives. Years later, Ellie finds herself in the U.S. with her husband and out of touch with Homa --- until a letter arrives with a request that will have the power to heal and offer an opportunity to make amends and even save a life.

THE LION WOMEN OF TEHRAN is about two women, Persian lions indeed, who weather many storms. Though the story is ostensibly Ellie’s, Homa is Marjan Kamali’s real star, and readers may find themselves wanting to know more about her life and experiences. Written with tenderness for her characters and an honesty about their flaws, the book follows two compelling women during a tumultuous period in Iran, the consequences of which reverberate today.

More than a tale of friendship or a coming-of-age story, it’s a beautifully crafted and subtle exploration of love, family, friendship, ambition, betrayal and redemption in a socio-political powder keg. It also addresses the various ways in which loyalty can shape one’s relationship to a nation --- both a homeland and an adopted home. This finely written novel emphasizes the human experience in the face of turmoil.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 28, 2024

The Lion Women of Tehran
by Marjan Kamali

  • Publication Date: July 2, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN-10: 1668036584
  • ISBN-13: 9781668036587