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Begun as an academic project, this book is continually distracted by its author's struggle between first-person narrative and research report. The first hundred or so pages are a clutter of multiple stories, characters, foreign phrases and claustrophobic geography; however, this sense of disorientation is likely the same feeling that Brown had while staying in the Heera Mandi district of Lahore, Pakistan. Though her narrative threads eventually join into an easily trackable tale that finds Brown abandoning her academic distance, the bizarre commingling of rank prostitution and centuries-old cultural traditions, of piety and witchcraft, and, most consistently, of pride and degradation is the book's real story. Although the stories of the girls (and boys) in Heera Mandi are largely heartbreaking, Brown doesn't make them objects of pity – a refreshing, if ultimately confusing, approach.

The Dancing Girls of Lahore
By Louise Brown

(Fourth Estate, 311 pages)