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The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Pleasure District

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,245 ratings  ·  159 reviews
With beautiful understatement, Louise Brown turns a novelist's eye on a true story that beggars the imagination - the lives of the 'dancing girls' of Lahore, Parkistan.

The dancing girls of Lahore inhabit the Diamond Market in the shadow of a great mosque. The twenty-first century goes on outside the walls of this ancient quarter but scarcely registers within. Though their
Paperback, 336 pages
Published July 3rd 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published July 1st 2005)
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3.79  · 
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Read in January 2011. Edited August 2011 about three times) and totally rewritten 24 Sept 2014.

This book wasn't what I thought it was going to be - an academic's study on the sex trade in Lahore. All the time I keep hoping the book will get to the nitty-gritty, it never does and it is explained in the afterword that the author does intend to write the sociological book the title implies 'at some point'. In the afterword!

The book is about the time the author spent living with a particular 'danci
Mar 23, 2016 rated it liked it

A dancing girl performing in a seedy establishment

Louise Brown suffers from the same outsider's malaise: generalisation after generalisaiton about people, culture, religion, social attitudes etc, all based on her few extended visits to the county, that dull the educative value of this memoir-cum-travelogue of Lahore's Heera Mandi, the red light district. (Stereotypes in this book are somewhat subdued; the other one about sex slaves in Southeast Asia is worse). This might be a useful read as long
Apr 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
A beautifully scripted heart wrenching saga on the turbulent life of Maha( a veteran in sex trade) in the illustrious red light area of Heera Mandi /Diamond Market in Lahore, Pakistan.

Heera Mandi once famous for its artistic aura of courtesans known purely for their dancing and singing skills has now been reduced to a commercial sex factory. A similar fate experienced by the courtesans of Lucknow (India) and the Geishas of Japan.

Brown’s protagonist Maha who is at the dusk of her career (prosti
Dec 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cultural, non-fiction

This book attracted me because I am very interested in various forms of ethnic dance and the social positions of professional dancers in different societies. I spent many years of my life studying Egyptian style “Raqs Sharqi”, or what is here referred to as “belly” dance. I lived and even worked for a while as a dancer in Egypt and know first hand that dance has a very ambivalent position in the Middle East. On the one hand, almost everyone there dances. In the “old days” before the society got
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an anthropological "study" of the red light district of Lahore, Pakistan. The author, Louise Brown, returned to Pakistan repeatedly for several months a year for seven years, living in the district and sharing the lives of the residents -- particularly the family of one. I found myself alternatively repulsed and saddened by their stories…and I often wondered how Brown could stand by and watch, without stepping in with the small amount of money that would have improved their lives so much ...more
I can't imagine that these girls will make successful prostitutes. Their fate, though, has been sealed from birth. They are barely literate. They don't go to school. In fact, they don't go anywhere. They spend their lives in these two dark rooms in the corner of the courtyard, tripping down the spiral staircase, hovering around the entrance to the alleyway, and occasionally going in a rickshaw to buy food and clothes. That is the extent of their world. (18)

Brown went to Pakistan as a researcher,
In a country where women are equated with honor, there is a well-known “secret” mohalla where love and sex are openly sold.

Louise Brown’s “The dancing girls of Lahore” is an insight of the life in the Shahi Mohalla and Tibbi Gali of Lahore, also famously known as the Heera Mandi of Lahore – famous for being home to Lahore’s courtesans.

A while back I read a similar book about Lahore’s Red Light District by Fouzia Saeed titled “Taboo”. Although “Taboo” was more involved in the study of how the H
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Louise Brown is a British academic who has spent many years researching prostitution and trafficking of women and girls as sex slaves throughout Asia. Over a period of four years, she made periodic visits to Lahore, Pakistan. During each visit, she spent a month or two living in Heera Mandi, the official brothel quarter within the old walled city. Her main focus was on one family, consisting of Maha and her three adolescent daughters, but she got to know many other people as well.

The profession
Fatima Afridi
Oct 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
A flat, almost passive tone and yet makes such an impact. I am a fan of non-judgemental report-like manner in which most of the western authors write. Reminds me of how we were taught to lose our opinion and write facts in our English Language class in school when writing a 'report'. It's not easy to write reports. Such a dedicated and professional take on the subject and yet she can't stop herself from getting emotionally involved which becomes slightly obvious in the 2nd half of the book.
I cou
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I have a very strong streak of wanderlust and this book seemed to put me right in the middle of the red light district of Lahore Pakistan. A place I'll probably never get to see nor particularly want to. But its so much more than a sensationalist or purient tract. Its the story of one main family and other relations and friends. It horrific and beautiful at the same time. Its life as it exists for many in the 3rd world. Its a chronical of child slavery and prostitution but it ...more
Aug 26, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a very interesting book about the lives of the nearly destitute dwellers in the slums and brothels of Lahore, Pakistan in the late 1990s to about 2005. The author is almost too descriptive at times, making my skin crawl at the filth and lack of future which most of these people endure. Ms. Brown herself is not a very sympathetic character: She leaves her home and family in England for a month or two every three or four months and lives mainly with a particular family whose income has bee ...more
Julia Graf
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating but grim look into Lahore's Red Light District, a mixture of artisans, transsexuals, pimps, drug addicts, children and prostitutes. Louise Brown touched on so many of the social issues surrounding this environment that affects the lives of the people living in this district, and how it causes so many problems that are almost impossible to break free of. I completely understand why the daughters of prostitutes frequently turn to the trade themselves, because in a society where they ar ...more
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, pakistan
Not about dancing - much - mostly about being born in a predetermined doom. One of the few traditional Asian groups that celebrate the birth of a girl as she'll eventually pay for herself, from her fated position as a disposable, degradable plaything for men.
Lahore is a beautiful city - dirty and chaotic like most Asian huge population centers - and totally charming. Although i didn't stay long, i did visit the neighborhood she describes (as it was in Fall 2012) and spent two evenings at Iqbal's
Apr 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting look at a part of Pakistan that is not often visible, discussed, or considered. The story is well written, covering the lives of many of the different elements of the seedy nightlife in the old city of Lahore. The author primarily follows the life of one family, along with the supporting cast around it. It is intriguing, disturbing, but entertaining all at the same time.
May 29, 2012 rated it liked it
A telling of the selling of sex in Lahore, Pakistan by an English researcher- told in the form of a novel. This was at times, difficult to read as I think about the day-t0-day reality of teens in other parts of the world. I think what made this read even more interesting is the culture layered on top of this reality. In South Asian culture, people's perceptions of you are incredibly important- to the point where most people end up living in an alternate reality where they start to believe this p ...more
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I was instantly attracted to this book the minute it was mentioned. Not just because it talks about hush hush zone of Lahore but also I wanted to see the views of non pakistani Britsh writer.I was expecting a judgemental comments from british writer about Pakistan Muslim society.But I was disappointed. I became a fan of Louise Brown dedication and passion, she spent years living in heera mandi doing her research where women like me are scared to go in bright day light or even mention the name of ...more
May 26, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first time i read it I liked it. But I just tried reading it again and couldn't get into it. This is a great immersion into a culture, especially if you don't know much about Pakistan. But the author spends a lot of time going forth in her cultural discussion between India and Pakistan which made it hard to remember the book is set in Pakistan. And she throws a lot of unfamiliar words at her readers without defining them. The first time I glossed over these, assuming she'd define them, but t ...more
Apr 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
An interesting look at the red light district in Lahore. The story is real. The author recounts her experiences with the people she met over years of living amonst them. It has a slight western perspective on many things (Engligh author) but recounts the chaos, emotions, and reality of life in the district very well. What I like most is that through the author's closeness to one family, the reader becomes aware of how difficult it really is for daughters not to inherit their mom's profession. A ...more
Oct 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author is an academic from Birmingham, England. But this book, although written in a matter-of-fact format for the most part, is informative without being dry. Brown writes about her trips to Pakistan from 2000 through 2004, after 9/11. If the author had focused on just Maka and her family the book might have been a bit more concise. All-in-all, I found this book very interesting.
Kashif Nasir
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's a life changing book, the author sacrificed so much and wrote a gem, I loved every chapter
Sagheer Afzal
Apr 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book. Louise Brown has the inner eye of a novelist and the analytical insight of an academic and she has combined the two to produce a profound and moving insight of the underbelly of Pakistani society.
Feb 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written account which transgresses the academic and makes the characters so real. There is no happy ever after ending here, as there never is with real-life, but there is always hope.
Feisty Harriet
Too much conjecture, not enough story. I wish Louise Brown had a better, more personal way or writing, her research on brothels in Pakistan. The stories are gripping, but it was hard to follow them.
Huma Rashid
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
How did GoodReads delete my review of this?! UGH. It was the best review EVAR. :( Suffice it to say, go read this book.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asia, good
I have been reading a lot of books from the Middle East recently and so this fits into that theme and holds it's place at one of the better written ones that I've read. The world the author takes us into is very diverse and colourful and I wanted to keep running because I didn't think I'd get tired of reading it. I feel for the author in the sense that you go into a place with such poverty and corruption and want to fix everything. You want to save everyone and give them everything they need but ...more
Rei Firdha Amalia
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
The dancing girls: Maha and her three kids have been struggling to find the emotional connection, financial stability, and honor, which are difficult to find in Heera Mandi- one of the poor areas and the red light district in Pakistan, where the little girls and women have their own price tags based on skin color, face, curve of their body, and their dance.

Yet, Im amazed by how they still celebrate life.
Jenee Rager
Aug 09, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was eye-opening and very interesting for a non-fiction book. It paints Pakistan in a completely different light than current media does, and I wish that all these years later there was a follow up on how Maha and her daughters were doing. Unfortunately because there was so much information to put into the book, there were portions stuck into chapters that didn't really flow and they got distracting and took away from my overall enjoyment of the book.
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: south-asia
I wish I had read this book before or during my trips to Lahore, particularly the old city, so I could envision what Heera Mandi looked like when Louise Brown chronicled her experience. I was one of those kids who grew up watching Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan, romanticized portrayals of the courtesan culture in the Indian subcontinent. Brown's portrayal is real, raw, uncomfortable, and in many ways tragic.
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's a fascinating book written from an anthropologist's perspective.
It documents the inner lives of that world in a way that is gripping and makes you connect with the characters.
The language is strong, especially if you're familiar with the local words. However, you learn to get past it.
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pakistan
Achy, beautifully written.
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See also: T. Louise Brown, how the name is printed in some editions.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Louise Brown is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Asian Studies at the University of Birmingham, England, and the author of several books on Asia, the sex industry, and sexuality and gender issues. She has lived and worked in Asia, including sp
“a raped girl is bad for the family: it shows that they can’t protect their women; that they have little social standing; and that they’re not respectable. It’s worse for the victim because once a woman, or a girl—or a boy—is known as the target of a rape she becomes so despised, so shamed, so worthless that she turns into public property. No one is raped only once.” 11 likes
“I’m playing catch with Nisha and Nena. They’re standing against the opposite wall shrieking with enjoyment. They’re teenagers, but they’ve never played catch before and lack any sense of coordination; when they throw the ball to me it flies in any direction. Sometimes it hits the wall behind them. We’ve been playing for half an hour and they have only caught it twice.” 1 likes
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