Poignant. Intensely personal. Moving and unforgettable.
Amsterdam is a gorgeous city, arguably one of Europe’s most iconic, with its canals, bridges, distinct architecture, coffee shops, and public art. As Wienir artfully describes, a late night bicycle pedal through the city becomes a dazzling experience: “Biking through any European city in the still of night is transcendent, doing so in Amsterdam is divine.” But there’s a part of the city, the Red Light District, that is pretty on the surface, but filled with ugliness once you delve deeper.
Centuries old, the haunting red lights of the district illuminate women selling their soft bodies for hard currency behind curtained glass walls. This memoir takes the reader on a journey to the other side of those walls, into the dark side of beauty.
In this age of the #MeToo movement, the Bill Cosby sentencing, and the Kavanaugh hearings, if prostitution freaks you out, I get it. I, too, find the subject matter of the world’s oldest profession upsetting.
But this award-winning tale is about so much more than that. It’s about love, redemption, connection. About living in the moment, about making a difference. So read it anyway.
I’m glad I did. The book won this year's Hollywood Book Festival, and I figured there was something special about it. I had traveled to Europe ten years before the author, and imagined his adventures outside of the district would remind me of a time when I carried my only worldly possessions on my back, and saw the world through fresh, innocent eyes. That was a pivotal time for me and I knew I’d enjoy a walk down cobblestoned European memory lane. However, although I’d visited Amsterdam several times, the district was never part of the itinerary. Although it’s not exactly legal, the Dutch are more upfront about the profession. I was curious. What pulls a woman into prostitution? What is it like? Does she enter of her own free will? Is it as horrible as it sounds? Can she ever leave?
The author is drawn to the district, moth to the flame style. While in Amsterdam for an abroad semester of law school, he wants to meet a working woman, and tell her story. It turns out to be far more difficult than he imagined. None of the women want to have anything to do with him. He won’t have sex with them, or give them money, so they insult him and slam doors in his face.
After countless rejections on the rain-drenched streets of the district, he finally connects with a stunning woman named “Emma”, and she haltingly agrees to tell him her tale. But it isn't easy for her to open up. Years of abuse and distrust have colored her perspective, and she stands him up, cuts short their appointments, and doesn't return his calls. When she does eventually agree to a meeting at her home, Wienir even wonders if she could be setting him up for some sort of dangerous altercation with a boyfriend or pimp.
Finally, on the eve of his departure back to America, sitting on a couch in her apartment, Emma shares what it’s like, working under the ghostly red lights every night. It’s a gut-wrenching, sorrowful conversation. Cue the thunder, lightning, and downpour. Even your umbrella won't save you now.
But it turns out there's much more to Emma and her story than meets the eye. No spoilers here. Let's just say that her story is intense and unforgettable. Although the author does a striking job illustrating scenes of the city, it's Emma who lights up the tale, stealing the show.
If you're open to learning about the sexual underbelly of Europe, and hearing the occasional graphic description, Emma's account, once heard, can't be unheard. You'll walk away with your heart not broken, but broken open, seeing that love glows in even in the darkest corners. As Wienir quotes Anne Frank, “I don’t think of all the misery, but all the beauty that still remains.”
You can purchase Amsterdam Exposed by clicking the image above.
International award-winning thriller author.