Andrea reviews BAR FLOWER by Lea Jacobson., St. Martin’s Press, 2008, 978-0-312-36897-5, 340 pages

I am going to be honest with you. I found the book tough to read, not because the story was awful but because Ms. Jacobson’s story was a memoir/autobiography. It was actually fascinating and educational. She has written about her time working as a Japanese hostess.

Hostesses are not to be confused as geishas, though they are similar. Geishas (pronounced gā-shə, not gee-sha) are defined by the Merriam–Webster dictionary as “a Japanese girl or woman who is trained to provide entertaining and lighthearted company for a man or a group of men.” Hostesses are defined by Quora as “a woman (not necessarily Japanese) who is expected to drink with male clientele and interact and flirt with them various ways. The no touching rule is in effect.”

People often consider hostesses the modern counterpart of geishas, which is accurate. Ms. Jacobson does not focus on the geisha lifestyle in her book, though. She tells about how she was hired and eventually fired from teaching English to kindergarteners at an elite Japanese school. Desperate to make money, live in Japan, and not go back to New York, she was told about this industry. Looking very American but being bilingual worked in her favor when she finally got a job at the seedy Palace hostess bar and on to the more lucrative Heaven hostess bar.

Ms. Jacobson doesn’t write a story wanting your pity. She shares with readers brutal truth about how she made the choice to work in these clubs. She tells readers both sides of the hostess bar experience. Just as free drinks are great for a young woman who is twentysomething and struggling in all sorts of ways, they are not so great for someone who wants to form real relationships with others.

Ms. Jacobson’s story is a somber cautionary tale, but I would recommend reading her plight.