A great journalist takes readers places they've never been before, while a great writer makes them feel as though they're really there. Brown qualifies on both counts, as evidenced by her groundbreaking foray into the lives of the women of Heera Mandi, a red-light district in Lahore, Pakistan.
An academic researcher who has studied prostitution globally, Brown spent four years gathering materials for The Dancing Girls of Lahore, and informs readers that this red-light district dates from ancient times, when courtesans would vie for the hearts of sultans and emperors. The older women like to remember themselves as artists. "Their skills had nothing to do with sex -- except, perhaps, sometimes." But today Heera Mandi is a run-down, congested, dangerous ghetto where women are born into the profession with scant hope of escaping.
Brown's depiction of these "dancing girls" is as gripping as it is devastating. She describes the influence of the local drug trade and the filthy conditions in which the women live, and readers sense her struggle with her role as an observer when she desperately wishes to save one young girl from a dismal future. The Dancing Girls of Lahore is essential reading, because it forces its readers to see that regardless of how much women have achieved in many parts of the world, there's still much progress to be made. (Fall 2005 Selection)