Amsterdam Exposed by David Wienir (De Wallen Press, 2018)
Bitchy opening aside: This may be considered a starred review, because the amount of stars that exist at the end of the following text accurately reflects how many stars I would give the book were I to review with stars. To make this bitchy opening aside clearer, out of FIVE, I would give this book ZERO stars. If I gave stars. Which I don’t.
If you’re David Wienir or someone who cares about David Wienir’s feelings, you probably won’t want to read any further than this. Amsterdam Exposed – unless it is subtle, point blank, no-holds-barred, bang-on-the-nose satire (which I don’t think it is) – is one of the worst pieces of misjudged trash I have ever had the misfortune to read. If it is satire – maybe “parody” rather than satire – it’s fucking phenomenal, because Amsterdam Exposed is a book that is laughably confused. It is ignorant, shamefully misguided, presumptive, arrogant, smug and about as reflective as a cardboard box that’s been pissed on in a back alley of a much grimier red light district than the one in Amsterdam.
Please note, I am only going to comment on the book, on the book, on the book, and on the character that the text evokes. If the David Wienir of the text is identical to the David Wienir who wrote it, then I apologise for what I am going to say, because the David Wienir in the text is a fucking moron, and if he is intended to be seen as a moron, then top fucking work, Writer David Wienir, but if he isn’t, then please remember that I am commenting on the literary David Wienir as real-life David Wienir wrote him.
I read a lot of books. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as an “expert” on books, but I read at least one a week, I review books regularly for this website and irregularly for many others, I comment on books frequently on Twitter and my blog, TriumphoftheNow.com, and if I wasn’t self-hating and lower middle class I probably would describe myself as an expert on books. I have two degrees, essentially “in books”, so, fuck it, I am gonna own my expertise: I am an expert in books.
I read enough to know what – when I’m reading something that’s good – works and what – when I’m reading something that’s bad – doesn’t. When I read a book that intends to be funny, a book that intends to be profound, a book that intends to be educational, a book that intends to be beautiful, a book that intends to be clever, a book that intends to be harrowing, I know that when the book does those things, it is a success. A book that seeks to be serious but makes you laugh is not a success, a book that seeks to discuss a topic but doesn’t, is not a success. A book that claims it is insightful but isn’t… is not a success. Amsterdam Exposed is not a success. It’s not just “not a success”, it’s a complete fucking failure.
The premise of Amsterdam Exposed is that an American law student, David Wienir, is off to Europe for a semester of cultural exchange. While there, he decides he will “investigate” prostitution and “tell the world” about the “truth” of “the world’s oldest profession”. However, to do so he decides to “infiltrate” the red light district but without becoming a customer. He wants to talk to sex workers, while they’re at work, without paying for their time or fucking them. He commits himself – in writing, repeatedly – to never doing sex with a sex worker, and also not to pay for conversation. He spends most of the book getting pissed off because sex workers tell him to fuck off when he approaches their windows asking for conversation IN EXCHANGE FOR NOTHING, and then he eventually finds a woman who works as a prostitute who is willing to give him her time for free. However, he buys her ludicrously expensive and inappropriate gifts, falls in love with her but never has sex with her, and then eventually gets her to recount her life story to him and it is, as expected, sad and poignant. However, there is an overwhelming sense of judgement that pervades the text, so this story feels utterly out of place.
To be blunt, Amsterdam Exposed is an embarrassing read: basically imagine the worst possible way a book with this premise could turn out, and then go worse. That is Amsterdam Exposed. Wienir’s text is full of digressions about dog shit, claims about Dutch social mores that are complete presumption, bragging about his education and his previous internships. It is a mess, thematically and literarily, and difficult to read because it’s just so fucking amateur.
The following are some choice excerpts from the text. Basically, I want you to see – through Wienir’s own words – how the narratorial voice is judgemental, is rude, is clueless. He refers to the women who work as prostitutes as “girls” throughout, he falls in love with a sex worker, he refuses to pay for anyone’s time, he speaks about Red Bull as if it’s a deadly narcotic and he constantly constantly constantly writes about the dichotomy between working as a prostitute and being “normal”. He also patronisingly uses words like “save” and “redemption” a lot. The whole thing is terribly fucking pitched. It is judgemental and often cruel about the physical appearance of sex workers, there’s a section in the middle that offers advice to sex tourists, there is constant xenophobic stereotyping, and an overwhelming repetitious mantra about the perceived importance of the book as a whole, which he concludes by claiming it “saved” a woman from sex work. As in the book did. Jesus.
- “Looking at her, the last thing I saw was a prostitute. What I saw was a beautiful girl.” (p. 19) Why can’t a person be both?
- “It has been said that everyone has a superpower. […] If I could be said to have such a thing, it would be to fall asleep anywhere, on command. Call me Captain Bedtime, The Super Sleeper, Siesta-Man, or whatever. They would all apply.” (p. 24) Right.
- “Inga had a more optimistic take on life than one would expect from someone who grew up behind the Iron Curtain.” (pp. 25-26) Why? How?
- “While Estonia had since regained its independence, the aftereffects [of the Soviet Union] lingered, and the devastation was evident on the faces of everyone I encountered.” (p. 26) You see that? Everyone in Estonia looks devastated.
- “For well over a century, the station has been the gateway to Amsterdam, through which billions have travelled – locals, tourists and prostitutes alike.” (p. 27) The three types of people, hey?
- “Red Bull had yet to catch on in America, and I was unfamiliar with the stuff. Inga warned me to only drink one at a time. It was rumoured drinking more could cause your heart to stop, possibly explode. There was even talk it contained bull semen. Regardless, Amsterdam was fuelled by the drink.” (pp. 31-32) He finds Red Bull far more taboo and dangerous than marijuana and writes a lot more about the effects of caffeine, presuming the reader has never had a fucking coffee.
- “we relaxed and discussed the hot topics of the day. Bill Clinton, the death penalty, and why Americans are so fat. […] Relatively speaking, it was an innocent time.” (p. 32) Lol.
- “Did I really need a coffee after drinking Red Bull? Absolutely not. If anything, the Red Bull was kicking in” (p. 35) and “I felt the Red Bull and coffee coursing through my veins” (p. 37) both show the druglike deification of this product placement.
- “Many think once a girl steps behind a window, she’s no longer human. I want to change that […] to demystify the profession.” (p. 80) Who thinks this?
- “No one would have guessed I was walking with a prostitute. In that moment, she was just a normal girl.” (p. 81) Very judgemental.
- “Besides roses, I had never bought anything for a prostitute.” (p. 84) What an odd sentence.
- “The pants were tight, very tight […] I found a pair I could sit down in that didn’t show off my ballsack. Those were my two requirements, not easy to satisfy.” (p. 93) I don’t think buying jeans is this difficult in real life.
- In a barber’s: “I flipped through the pages of Euro-looking dudes until I found a style that didn’t make me look like a pussy.” (p. 93) Very aggressive, very macho.
- “Did I look like a bit of a douche? Perhaps. Did I look European? Absolutely.” (p. 94) Tbf this is one of the few times where I think Wienir was trying to be funny.
- “when the most attractive women are gone, the aesthetically challenged are busy at work” (p. 95) Very mean phrasing, very dehumanising.
- “sitting on a stool in a thong with her legs spread open, was one of the most grotesque women I have ever seen. No taller than five feet, she must have weighed nearly 300 pounds, had thin balding hair, and a rash. / On top of it all, she was a gum chewer.” (p. 96) The comment about gum renders this description ridiculous as well as mean. There are several such moments in the book, leeringly and dismissively describing the bodies of women.
- “I could tell that, despite everything, she was a good person […] I wanted to save her from the horror.” (p. 99) Presumptive, and presumes moral judgements in the mind of the reader.
- “Having spent more money than I wanted on two necklaces, one of which was hanging around the neck of a prostitute and the other lying on the bottom of a canal, I needed to get back on budget.” (p 103) He bought the necklace for Emma, the prostitute he falls in love with, then regretted it and threw it in a canal. He then regretted this so bought the same thing again. This bizarre, creepy, behaviour is written as if unremarkable. Also the implication that those two locations (bottom of a canal; neck of a prostitute) are equally valuable.
- “The concept of justice to a Russian lawyer seemed as foreign as the concept of love to a Dutch prostitute.” (p. 108) Who is this more offensive to? Discuss.
- “Before moving to Amsterdam, if someone would have told me I would be dipping fries into mayo once, sometimes twice, a day, I would have laughed.” (p. 109) Very much reminded me of the Alan Partridge line about visiting the Earls Court Boat Show with Dale Winton.
- “Sitting at the bar, I watched as one guy after another stumbled in. […] Most of the men wore pleather, and had mustaches. While there was no sign indicating I was in a gay bar, there were clues. There was a gay cinema across the street, there were no women anywhere, and two dudes with exposed butt-cheeks were making out in a corner.” (p. 111) I struggle to believe almost every word in this sentence.
- “’Hey there, ladies,’ I said, with no purpose but to affirm my heterosexuality.” (p. 112) This is embarrassing, but it is not written as if it is. Wienir isn’t making fun of himself here, as he should be if this is something he said.
- “They had left a bad taste in my mouth. Not because they were lesbians, but because of their pool table etiquette.” (p. 112) The denial is implying the “bad taste” is exactly for that reason.
- “The bathroom was clearly not being used for legitimate purposes.” (p. 118) Very prudish.
- “I’m not looking for action. I’m just doing some thinking.” (p. 120) This is spoken to a soliciting sex worker.
- “Blushing and ashamed, she said quietly, ‘David, I’m a prostitute.’ […] ‘No, Emma, you’re more than that,’ I said, ‘and I need you for the book.” (p. 124) None of the dialogue in the text reads realistically.
- “I knew our connection was real. I knew it transcended the district” (p. 131) Not even certain what this means.
- “She was out of their league, even for a prostitute.” (p. 134) Incredibly objectifying and dehumanising.
- “kissing is forbidden. Don’t even ask.” (p. 135) This is from the section offering advice to sex tourists, which is not in keeping with the judgemental tone elsewhere. Wienir is almost implying that he presumes his readers use sex workers, and this piece of advice “Rule Number Eight is just common sense. Don’t try to stick a finger up a girl’s ass.” (p. 138) is strangely specific. He directly evidences his presumption that the people who use sex workers are “people like him” and not “people like sex workers”.
- “The prostitute, glowing in the blue light, had an Adam’s apple . . . and a penis.” (p. 140) Some tourists are mocking a trans sex worker and Wienir recounts their taunts as if there is a validity in their behaviour.
- “When I looked at Ava, I no longer saw a prostitute. I saw a beautiful girl. I had to remind myself I was there to write a book, and somehow stay pure in the process.” (p. 143) The use of “pure” is key there, the tone of judgement sticks out.
- “I forgot where I was and flirted with her as though she was a normal girl.” (p. 159) In a brothel, he again differentiates between “normal” and sex worker.
- “’What’s wrong?’ I asked the 24-year-old prostitute.” (p. 173) Prurient detail.
- “she had just done a line of coke and was thinking about killing herself.” (p. 174) Very unsympathetic.
- “When I looked at her, I no longer saw a prostitute. I saw a friend.” (p. 175) This is one of the lines that makes me wonder if the book is satire.
- “More than 10,000 were buried there, including Vermeer and countless prostitutes.” (p. 184) Odd weighting of numbers there.
- “There were so many times I had wished Emma was an ordinary girl, and we could do ordinary things.” (p. 190) So so so so so judgemental.
- “With the exception of the flowers, necklace, book, shirt, and our first dinner, she never accepted anything from me.” (p. 190) This is funny for many reasons.
- “I couldn’t believe I was shopping for eggs and cheese with a Dutch prostitute.” (p. 190) Why couldn’t he believe this? He’s spent months trying to have this exact kind of experience.
- “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She was getting out. By agreeing to help with the book, she had seemingly found the closure she needed, and the strength to move on.” (pp. 235-236) So self-aggrandising.
- “Emma was no longer a prostitute. She was now just a girl.” (p. 237) Ouch.
- “Against all odds, a Dutch prostitute and an American has connected in the most unlikely of places.” (p. 238) I don’t think that’s an unlikely thing to happen in Amsterdam’s red light district…
- “I do not expect anyone to have much empathy for Emma after reading this book, or for any of the other women mentioned. […] I only ask that you remember that Emma, and others like her, are people.” (p. 247) Again, this presumption that the reader is cruel and very right wing.
- “Deep down, this book is not about Emma, or prostitution, or even Amsterdam. Rather, it’s about humanity. […] It’s about the inherent worth of the individual.” (p. 248) No it’s not, it’s about David Wienir.
- “Many thought Y2K would bring about the end of time.” (p. 249) Did they?
- “I never thought of myself as being above Emma, or any of the other women in the district […] I think this is one of the things Emma saw in my eyes when we met.” (p. 249) He’s special, Emma’s special, prostitution is dirty, is the message. He definitely thinks he is better than the woman chewing gum, for example.
- “I never imagined working on this book would lead to Emma quitting the profession. Few things have made me happier. […] if any working girls happen to stumble on this book, I hope the story inspires you to make similar choices. With Emma, it all started with developing a speck of self-worth. […] The last time I saw Emma, she asked me to marry her. […] It makes me happy knowing I meant something to her. I never became a customer, and finally had what I needed for my book. […] We defied the odds and did the impossible.” (pp. 250-251) No sex workers will be reading this book, certainly not to the end. The tone is of success, of self-importance, of a job well done. The word “speck” is damning, too.
As the above shows, Wienir’s book is ignorant, offensive, arrogant and anachronistic. Amsterdam Exposed uses tired and old-school clichés as if unaware of them. Tropes that are embarrassing to read, the idea of a “special prostitute”/”tart with a heart” etc., the idea of a man “saving” a “fallen woman”, of it being “revolutionary” to not want to pay for sex, y’know, which I don’t think it is. I’ve never paid for sex. Have you? The narrative of the book is tired, the insight non-existent…
AND AND AND Amsterdam Exposed feels like a self-published book: there is lots of repetition, poor sentence structure and a crippling lack of self-awareness, yet never have I ever received as many pleading emails from a PR company to get a review out. The writer is a very successful and hyper-privileged lawyer working in Hollywood, so perhaps he paid for the PR agency himself, and/or he is the PR agency, using a fake email address. I honestly can’t believe that there is anyone in the world (other than possibly the writer) who thinks that reviews of this book will make it more likely to sell. Then again, it is fucking hilarious, though it really, really, really, doesn’t mean to be. One laughs at the tone, at the narrator, at the pomposity and self-importance. This is a bad, badly written, book. Unless, to say it again, it’s a parody of a clueless middle-aged man writing about sex work. It reminded me a lot of the books written in the character of Alan Partridge, and I don’t think that’s what Wienir intended.
Then again, maybe a lot of my disapproval comes from classism: I am done with allowing people to make me feel like they are better than I am, and Wiener’s book is riddled with attempts to present himself as elite, as important, as more valid than whoever is reading his work. He portrays himself as an expert, when in reality he isn’t, and he continues to evidence this lack of expertise while simultaneously continuing to claim it. This is what the elite do, isn’t it, pretend they and their work and their world view is the correct and most important one? And that can absolutely fuck the fuck off.
I am DONE with people with more money and/or confidence than me making me feel small, I have given up on accepting bullshit and I have given up on letting bullies bully me or bully in front of me. The problem, though, is that this requires me to play a role I don’t want to play: acquiesce or fight seem to be the choice, and I don’t want to do either, but other people want and expect me to do the first and will only accept the second as an alternative.
Since deciding to give up on other’s people’s bullshit, I have almost got into physical fights multiple times: not because I can’t do this fucking late-capitalist bullshit, but because I can, and if I live within society and want to respect myself then I have to. I face up to my own hypocrisies and I acknowledge the fucking world’s. I am better better better and more reflective, more empathetic, more connected than David Wienir’s literary self is, even though he thinks he’s a fucking Master of the Universe.
Maybe reading this condescending, ignorant, middle class (in the English sense) misreading of continental Europe was exactly what I needed at this stage in my life. I’m leaving England, hoping to find – to be frank – better people. It is people like David Wienir I am leaving and will seek to avoid forever: the “cracks” I am deliberately fucking diving through are the “cracks” that pricks like this “warn” their pampered, aupaired, offspring that they might fall through.
I spent my teenage years being told I wasn’t good enough because my parents weren’t wealthy, then my twenties being told I wasn’t good enough because the raging fucking wiiiiiild inferno of ambition I felt wasn’t ambition towards economic clout. Fuck it all. Fuck the bullies from school and fuck the bullies from my twenties. I end this decade of my life prepped for greater personal happiness, pumped for international travel and a life not tied down to a middle aged, middle class idea of acceptable rebellion. Casual weekend drug use doesn’t make you interesting, paying fucking car insurance doesn’t make you more worthwhile. For fuck’s sake, stop telling other people how to live, stop pretending YOUR LIFESTYLE is the only valid lifestyle. Live how you like, but let other fucking people do too. No one is better or worse than anyone else. Good and evil are fucking relative. Live your own life, stop being a prick.
I like to work, I like to work HARD, but I’m not working for bullshit, I’m not working to directly make any lazy bastard richer than anyone needs to be; maybe this isn’t the place for a personal manifesto, maybe this isn’t the place to recommend everyone quits their office job and starts working in an independent bakery or something and spends the whole day after their shift making art, making music, making fuck. Well, actually, I am. If we all extricate ourselves from the corrupt capitalistic system that funnels super wealth to a handful of self-important wankers, then we’d all be better off. Spiritually, culturally and socially.
It’s not hard to have a revelatory experience in Amsterdam, but David Wienir failed to do so. However, his privilege and highly inflated sense of self-worth allowed him to invest huge amounts of his time getting next to nothing out of the city. He names the bicycle he rides around on “the purple rocket”, like a penis. He is not mature enough to write about sex work with any validity. If Amsterdam Exposed is a joke, it’s hilarious and it works. If it is trying or hoping or believing itself to be anything else, it’s an absolutely irredeemable piece of shit.
Avoid like Wienir avoided sex – though not sex workers – in Amsterdam.
If you think Scott probably just didn’t get it, man, you can purchase Amsterdam Exposed by David Wienir here.