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

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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 (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #961,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*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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Customer Reviews

Please don't miss out on this book!!!!!
The narrative grips you, and even without any pictures in the book the author paints a vivid image of what it is like in the dark areas of Pakistan.
Rai Chowdhary
Although I found this book to be almost too depressing to continue reading, this was a very interesting, well written book.
book worm

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 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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8 of 8 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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Fatima on October 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I haven't read the book yet. But I am anxious to find out what is this Heera Mandi about? I'm from Pakistan Lahore and I have spent my childhood years in Lahore. I used to hear things from my friends about guys in my school are going to Heera Mandi and spending money on girls to sleep with them(and I'm assuming going to Heera Mandi while in school only applies to rich and spoiled guys). So us girls would talk about things like that and hate girls from heera mandi and give them bad names. Why give them bad names? Well! Because that's just how it is in Pakistan. One day my friend told me that her brother brought a girl home and is keeping her in a separate house because her parents didn't agree to keep her in their house. Later on I found out that the girl was from Heera Mandi and she is very pretty and the guy married that girl. The parents abandoned their son and I don't know what's going on in their family now. When I told this to my mother and asked her what is Heera Mandi really about and why does it exist? She was really mad at me for asking her such questions because it's considered disrespecting and really wrong to ask about prostitutes or to even discuss them. After all they are considered curse to our society.

It is sad how and what women give-up and become prostitutes because of no support of their parents or whatever the reason makes them one. I hope this book can help me to expose the things I want to know about "Heera Mandi".
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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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