Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book review- The Professor and the Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa

Professor and the Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa was originally written in Japanese but has been translated into English. I for one, am glad that so many Japanese novels are being translated into English. I have always wanted to read Japanese novels but I don't know how to read Japanese.

'He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem—ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.

She is an astute young Housekeeper—with a ten-year-old son—who is hired to care for the Professor.

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor's mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities—like the Housekeeper's shoe size—and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.' (amazon.com)

The synopsis on the back of the book that I have reads a bit differently. The one line that attracted me to the book was the last line of the synopsis. 'With each new equation, three lost souls forge an affection more mysterious than imaginary numbers, and a bond that runs deeper than memory'. I wondered, is it possible for a bond to run deeper than memories? Aren't bonds built on memories? I was intrigued so I wanted to read this novel.

This novel is not a romance novel, in fact I don't think it fits neatly into any genre. In some parts, when the professor lectures about mathematics, it can actually seem like you're reading a non-fiction book. In other parts, the story is quite tender, a human drama.

Gentle and touching are good words to describe this book. The language is extremely simple but very beautiful and brings about the story and emotions in the book very clearly. Yoko Ogawa's writing style is an asset to this novel.

The story revolves around the housekeeper, her son 'Root' (because his head looks like a square root) and the sixty-four year old retired mathematics professor, who has only eightly minutes of memory. Even though this is quite a disturbing condition, in the story it seems just normal.

Throughout the story, the housekeeper, her son and the professor become closer through mathematics, such as when the professor describes the relationship between the housekeeper's birthday and his watch (they are amicable numbers). The housekeeper feels that there is a 'connection' between them through these numbers. The professor also acts as a grandfather-sort-of figure for her son Root.

I thought that the story was very simple and beautiful. The book is pretty thin compared to the standard length of novels.

I would recommend this book for those interested in deep and profound books, with simple language (like the Little prince).


Interesting characters and realistic relationship building
Makes mathematics seem like a language and relationships between numbers like poetry

Even though it was a gentle story, it lacks a bit of emotion. I never even came close to crying.

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