(TORONTO, ON) – Amsterdam Exposed may perhaps be an overly sensationalist title. But author David Wienir certainly makes it an interesting travelogue and a rather unexpected if not tragic love story.
Amsterdam may be one of my favourite cities, particularly its old central historic district with its countless canals. Culturally rich it is but there is also a counterculture of drugs and sex both of which are readily available although not quite completely legal.
Considering Wienir’s background of being a third-year law student at Berkley University in California in Amsterdam to begin a semester of international law one might expect a “golly-gee” approach to prostitution flaunted so openly.
But, his previous publications include The Diversity Hoax: Law Students Report From Berkeley and a quote in the preface explaining why it took him 18 years to complete the book rather present that a bug eyed negatively moralistic book is quite what not to expect.
Wienir writes, “My career had taken me into corporate America with several stints at several prestigious law firms … There is nothing corporate America likes less than someone to change the status quo, or worse, someone who strays from the herd.”
Wienir wades wide eyed into the Red Light District with a goal of writing a book introducing readers to sex trade women workers and to hear what the industry is like from their perspective. Just about every door is slammed in his face made more difficult by his vow not to pay for stories or have sex with any of the prostitutes.
Wienir has a knack for telling many an interesting story of the friendships and adventures he has in Amsterdam which on their own make this an interesting travelogue for those who have and have not visited that great city. Having visited the city twice at dissimilar stages of my life it certainly brought back memories for me.
Wienir’s philosophy that life is a current that transports us here and there often with little control enables him to weather the lack of co-operation he receives from the prostitutes. They are too busy to fritter away time on a book project.
Amid part of Amsterdam’s oldest section sits the Red Light district with hundreds of girls in windows advertising their wares. It is estimated over two million tourists a year visit this district.
Interspersed with tales of drinking, friendship and drugging about the reader is introduced to brief historical descriptions of Amsterdam, academic perspectives on prostitution and even a guide to securing a sexual transaction.
Much of the book is Wienir’s dogged attempt to gain the trust of prostitute Emma who he glimpses in a window in the Red-Light District. Their eyes lock and he feels a cosmic connection as she gradually opens up to him and completely on his last night in Amsterdam before returning to his studies at Berkeley where she pours out her life story to him.
And the story is not pretty.
In fact it is brutal. Emma detests the degradation and humiliation of her profession and her descriptions of her trade are even more painful because although her name is fictional her stories are true.
Wienir has totally fallen for Emma but keeps his vows which adds some high toned sexual tension to the book.
Wienir returns to the United States and again travels to Amsterdam a year later and Emma has reformed in large part because of the care and concern Wiener displayed towards her. She has now a partner, helps displaced people, and is about to get married.
Emma then drops a total bombshell on Wiener.
Ironically Wiener is not afraid to criticize those who moralize against prostitution, but his own set of morals (not on prostitution) increase the shell fragments from Emma’s bombshell. I’d have to call this book as a call for humanizing prostitution, which it does an excellent job of doing, but I have a sense of it also being a tragic love story.
In his epilogue Wienir writes, “I don’t expect anyone to have much empathy for Emma after reading this book, or for any other women mentioned.”
Despite Emma’s upbringing, no one forced her to become a prostitute. Sure she had a tough life and some bad luck, but she made her own choices. Nor do I expect anyone to approve of her profession. I only ask that you remember Emma, and others like her are people. They are alive. They count. They have souls, and still have important choices to make. We as a society should help them make the right ones, rather than condemn them to relive their mistakes over and over again.