Book Review: Amsterdam Exposed

This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.

When you think about Amsterdam’s Red Light District and its sex workers, I’m sure a few negative and derogatory things come to mind.

That’s because you haven’t met Emma, the prostitute that opened up author David Wienir’s eyes to what life in the Red Light District was really about, and the star of his book, Amsterdam Exposed: An American’s Journey into the Red Light District.

Wienir went to Amsterdam in 1999 (I was there the exact same time! It would be funny if we crossed paths) with two missions: to attend university and to write a book about the women who worked in the windows selling sex. He hoped to shed light on the Red Light District and portray these women as actual human beings with dreams and hopes.

It’s no surprise that he has difficulty getting any sex workers to agree to talk to him about his book. He is needled to pay the standard fifty guilders, either for sex or to talk about his book, but he sticks to his rules: no paying and no sex.

Emma Changes Everything

amsterdam canal

He finally meets a prostitute willing to talk to him…begrudgingly. It’s only after he spends the requisite fifty guilders — on a bucket full of roses that he gives to her — that she warms up to him.

From the start, he and Emma had a connection. It’s clear he’s attracted to her, and as her tale of a hard life unfolds, it’s all he can do to not try to rescue her (he wouldn’t be the first).

While he initially planned his book (which didn’t get completed or published for 20 years) to focus on life in the Red Light, what he ended up publishing was more of a memoir…and a bit of a love story.

Wienir struggles with his feelings for Emma as she is hot and cold toward him, likely unsure that she can actually trust him, given her past with men.

READ  Seeing Amsterdam with the I Amsterdam City Card

While it’s his story, it’s also hers…and that of every other woman who finds herself posturing in a window in Amsterdam.

Humanizing the Difficult

i am amsterdam

I hadn’t given much thought to the women of the Red Light District before reading this, but now my heart goes out to them. No one dreams of becoming a prostitute as a little girl. Poverty, abuse, and drugs are often what lead women down this path, but pretty much every one of them wants out.

The Red Light District may be a “must-see” in some tour books, but have compassion toward these women. They are people, just like you, and they have a difficult life and are trying to make the best of it.

This book also paints an accurate portrait of one of my favorite cities: Amsterdam. With bikes zooming by him at full speed (nearly killing him) and the ubiquitous smell of marijuana everywhere, Wienir does an excellent job of making the reader feel like she’s right there.

Smith Publicity gave me this book for review purposes, but all opinions are my own.