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The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Ancient Pleasure District Hardcover – July 5, 2005

36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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*Starred Review* Heera Mandi, the ancient red-light district of the Punjabi city of Lahore, Pakistan, is as distant as the moon from most Western experience, yet sociologist Brown renders an intimate portrait of one family there that is compelling in its strangeness and its humanity. Shuttling for months at a time between Heera Mandi and her middle-class world of Birmingham, England, Brown details the goings-on of Maha, her five children, and the people and places in their tiny universe. Maha, a fading singer-dancer-courtesan in her midthirties, must now depend on her eldest daughters to join the trade to help shore up the family's shrinking finances: Nisha, 14, who would literally rather die than come of age; Nena, 12, who appears to embrace the business with enthusiasm; and Ariba, 11, a dark-skinned pariah who hovers like a ghost over the household. To that end, Maha is busy making arrangements to sell Nena's virginity to a wealthy sheikh in Dubai. The family might have been spared this dilemma with help from Maha's husband, Adnan, but he is too drug addled and distracted with his other wife, Mumtaz, to care. Brown is unsparing in relating the casual violence Maha and her children inflict on one another, and that befalls them from their circumstances, but she also can't help but be invested in their futures. Readers of this excellent account will feel the same way. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“Riveting and important. Even readers who don’t think they’re interested in Pakistani prostitution will find themselves engrossed.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“A fascinating ethnography with Bollywood flair, even at its darkest moments.” (Washington Post)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (July 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060740426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060740429
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,999,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca on August 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Unique, important and beautifully written. Louise Brown is clearly an expert in her field. Not only are we transported to life in Heera Mandi, the ancient brothel quarter of Lahore, but we are introduced to Maha, a middle-aged courtesan and her children, Nisha, Nena, and Ariba, who take to Brown immediately.

It seems at one moment we are heartbroken and devastated by the reality of these women's lives, and at another intrigued and in awe of their ability to have some happiness, however small.

Brown's flair for description, and wondrous sense of humour brings this Walled City and its activities to life, creating a invigorating and wonderful read.

It is amazing that one human-being can find the courage, bravery and determination needed to record Heera Mandi, a world un-known to western culture, and its inhabitants. This book should be read for its sheer importance, not only for Brown's exquisite novelist's touch.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Zee on November 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book had me captivated within its first 10 pages. Rarely have I come across a book that is so unforgiving in giving me the actual violence and filth that befalls one of the most pariah segment of a Pakistani society.

Most of the Pakistanis will not talk about the Heera Mandi. In one of the many complex and idiosyncratic treatments towards sex, the Pakistani society will waste no time in classifying them as lowest of the lows, yet will also use them to help their essentially messed up sexual lives. This book spares nothing in portraying the almost unbelievable living conditions that the "tawaifs" are facing on a daily basis. You will also get to see the poor as they struggle to live on a day to day basis. The treatment of city sweepers, who are generally relegated to be treated as almost untouchables, is an eye-opener. This is not Rohington Mistry's account of a low class Sub-Continent fiction; this is very real, and it happens every day in the Red Light District of Lahore.

I love this book. Louise Brown lived in wretched conditions to observe the life of Maha, a woman in her 30s who has retired in an industry where rookies are as young as 10 years old. Occasionally, you get to see the dilemma that Ms. Brown passes through; when a young 14 year old is shipped to Gulf to be a mistress for an old Arab, who has a thing of young virgins, the author wonders whether she should actively get involved in stopping that illegal and dangerous trade from taking place. Another interesting part is the social hierarchy that exists within the Heera Mandi prostitutes, where one is "Shareef" or respectful because she commands 10,000 Rupees per night, and not 200.

Above all, this book is an ode to the human spirit. Ms.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amester17 on May 11, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Dancing Girls of Lahore has a fascinating premise: looking at the lives of dancing girls (prostitutes) in Pakistan. Technically forbidden under Sharia law to engage in sex, these women lead what can best be described as shadow lives -- physically, metaphorically and spiritually in the murky margins of a society in which women have strictly (read: narrowly) proscribed roles. There are some very interesting (and also heartbreaking) bits here -- anecdotes, throwaway lines, etc. But that's the problem, really. We never come to understand what it is exactly that drew the author, British writer Louise Brown, to spend four years (off and on) living amongst the prostitutes of Lahore. As a result, what could have been a really fascinating study of lives not lived becomes a bit of a rag-tag collection of daily anecdotes.

I had the strong feeling that this would have made a wonderful magazine piece for, say, The New Yorker. Something with heft and something that would have allowed for 5,000 or even 10,000 words. As a book, however, one begins to feel the lure of skimming as a way through because it all starts to sound the same. We are not engaged enough in the lives of the women profiled; there isn't enough real detail about them, nor is there any sense of genuine dialogue. Descriptions of urine-filled streets, rats in the house, cough syrup overdoses, etc., are not engaging enough over 250+ pages to keep at least this reader emotionally connected and committed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Muhammad A. Zafar on April 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book takes you on a journey into the hera mandi of lahore or the pleasure district. Having studied in Lahore for a few years and lived near the walled city or inner city, it was treat to read an outsiders views on, the way of life, just not in hera mandi but in pakistan in general . She potrays a fairly accurate picture of how the pakistani society works(especially in relation to the happenings in Hera Mandi), and she was able to potray the class system of pakistan which exisits through her writings. What some of the readers have to realise though is that her views are concerning the prostitues of pakistan not the general problems of the male/female relations in our society. Yes, it does sound horrible and it is, but there are women who also go to schools, colleges and univeristies and work besides their male counterparts. This book defines a certain part of the pakistani society and cant be taken as how women are generally treated in pakistan.
This book takes a no holds barred approach towards a dark spot on the pakistani culture (exploitation of women) that most people in pakistani culture try to avoid even discussing. Hopefully it will not only help the western people in understanding the problems faced by women, but also help break the barrier for pakistani people to look at the problems that women face.
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