Nicola's Reviews > Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution

Love For Sale by Nils Johan Ringdal
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Sep 17, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: history, non-fiction

It wasn’t until I was a few chapters into this book that I realized what a gargantuan undertaking its title suggests. A global history of prostitution? From ancient times through to modern? Cataloguing every country on the globe? And all in the space of 400 pages? Wow, Nils Ringdal must be quite a writer!

In fact, Ringdal is not remotely up to the challenge. Love For Sale is a history of prostitution, for sure, but doesn’t come close to being comprehensive. It would have been a much better effort had Ringdal narrowed his focus and given a history of prostitution in one country or during one time period. What we have instead is an overambitious mess.

There are interesting bits and pieces to be found in Love For Sale – although, often, just as I was becoming interested in a chapter, it would end. Just as often, however, I zoned out because Ringdal wandered off the subject of prostitution into boring irrelevance. Context is important, but Ringdal often brings in needless details that just weigh the book down.

It’s clear that Ringdal wrote chapters according to what he had material on. This leads to some overly-specific chapters (such as the one about Korean ‘comfort women’ during WW2) that contrast confusingly with the more panoramic chapters. It also leads to a particularly absurd chapter about the, uh, ‘phenomena’ of female academics going to Asia, befriending prostitutes and writing a book about it. The historical relevance of this is not clear. A critique by an academic about what other academics are doing is not really what I wanted from a history book.

I get a strong sense that Ringdal’s intent was to write a sexyfun book about prostitution. Unfortunately, prostitution often overlaps with polygamy, sex slavery, abuse and even what one might consider ‘conventional’ marriage. Delving deep into history, Ringdal has the unenviable challenge of trying to use documents that were overwhelming written by men to try and deduce whether women were actually getting what they wanted. Maybe, Ringdal posits, women in ancient times preferred to be sold into a temple as a prostitute, rather than marry men they didn’t love. Maybe. But who knows? Ringdal shows a lack of sensitivity to the fact that prostitution isn’t prostitution when it’s not your choice; then, it’s rape.

I can’t recommend this book. I don’t think it’s really worth slogging through the aspects of the book that are frustrating and sad in order to get to the parts that are interesting and well-researched.
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