cover image Sayonara Bar

Sayonara Bar

Susan Barker, . . St. Martin's Griffin, $13.95 (382pp) ISBN 978-0-312-36210-2

British author Barker's piquant debut chronicles the life of Mary, a young Englishwoman working as a hostess at the Sayonara Bar in Osaka, Japan. Though not a prostitute, Mary is paid an hourly wage to flirt and converse with the bar's customers, primarily middle-aged Japanese businessmen. Her colleagues include Katya, a Ukrainian hostess, and Watanabe, the Sayonara's cook, who keeps a watchful eye over Mary and believes that he's an "intermediary between the third and fourth dimension." Barker precisely draws her characters, emphasizing their innermost thoughts and desires. Mr. Sato, a widower, has vivid dreams about his deceased wife even as he's attracted to Mariko, a bar hostess who claims to be conversing with his ghostly wife. As the tension builds among the characters, Yuji, Mary's boyfriend, is caught stealing from his boss. An enigmatic yet riveting climax brings this highly unusual view of Japanese society to a fitting close. (Mar.)