July 2024

The Lion Women of Tehran

By Marjan Kamali
Review by
Prepare to lose yourself in Marjan Kamali’s The Lion Women of Tehran, a historical drama that evokes the sights and sounds of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar while artfully exploring the labyrinthian complexities of deep friendship.
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“Writing about Iranian women has been a central theme of my life,” Marjan Kamali says in the author’s note to The Lion Women of Tehran. On the heels of The Stationery Shop and Together Tea, Kamali continues this pursuit with the riveting saga of the friendship between Ellie and Homa, which begins in 1950 in Tehran, when the girls are 7, and continues through 2022. The events of their lives are interwoven with Iran’s recent history, including the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the 1979 Revolution and the violence and brutality of the following fundamentalist regime. Prepare to lose yourself in a historical drama that evokes the sights and sounds of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, with its maze of stalls and bartering merchants, while artfully exploring the labyrinthine complexities of deep friendship—especially jealousy, betrayal and forgiveness.

After Ellie’s father dies suddenly, Ellie and her mother are forced to move to a new neighborhood, where she meets Homa. Ellie’s mother likes to constantly remind her daughter that they are descendants of royalty and is horrified by their new surroundings, as well as Ellie’s new friend: Homa comes from a poor family, and her father is in jail for opposing the monarchy. Ellie, however, loves Homa’s warm, welcoming household, and wishes Homa’s family was her own. Their class difference, along with Ellie’s mom’s disapproval, drives a wedge into the girls’ friendship. At one point, Ellie muses that Homa “would always see me as too privileged, too shallow, too rich.”

Kamali closely examines how the country’s changing regimes have affected women’s rights, bringing the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in police custody (after allegedly violating the mandatory hijab law) into the novel’s conclusion. From an early age, Homa hopes to become a lawyer who crusades for change and women’s freedom, but the government as well as an accidental betrayal by Ellie cruelly sidetrack those plans. Homa notes, “That’s how losses of rights build. They start small. And then soon, the rights are stripped in droves.” Kamali writes deftly of the intersection between personal and political issues. She also excels at exploring the bonds of female friendship, as well as the changing and complex nature of mother-daughter relationships, especially in terms of heritage, family shame and secrets.

Reminiscent of The Kite Runner and My Brilliant Friend, The Lion Women of Tehran is a mesmerizing tale featuring endearing characters who will linger in readers’ hearts. 

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The Lion Women of Tehran

The Lion Women of Tehran

By Marjan Kamali
ISBN 9781668036587

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