Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa

This story of a mathematics professor and his housekeeper is a quiet, thoughtful book about friendship and family ties.  The professor was severely injured in an automobile accident 20 years earlier, erasing much of his memory.  He can recall events before 1975 with precision, but in the short term, can only remember the last 80 minutes.  As his sister-in-law put it, “it’s as if he has a single, eighty-minute videotape inside his head, and when he records anything new, he has to record over the existing memories.”  This presents a number of challenges for his new housekeeper, not the least of which is that he cannot remember her from one day to the next.  To overcome this difficulty he pins notes to his suit, including a drawing of the housekeeper and her son, who he has nicknamed “Root” because his flat head reminds him of the square root symbol.

The novel begins on the housekeeper’s first day of work in his home.  The professor has gone through a series of housekeepers, so she expects a challenging client.  And he is, in a way: he’s a bit of a curmudgeon, set in his ways.  But he also introduces her to his world by teaching her about prime numbers, amicable numbers, and mathematical theorems.  The professor fills a void in the housekeeper’s life, and she in his.  The professor and Root discover a shared love of baseball, and he helps Root with his homework.  Although they don’t live together, they are very much a family.

The story of their relationship is simple, dealing with everyday life and events.   And yet there’s so much meaning in the fine details, and the mathematical and baseball metaphors.  A fine read.

This book was also reviewed in Belletrista, Issue 1

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3 thoughts on “Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa

  1. I’ve read both good and bad things about this book, but I do think it sounds really interesting. Thank you for the review 🙂

    • Iris, most of the reviews I’ve read have been positive — even raving about it. It wasn’t a “rave about” book for me, but it was quietly enjoyable.

  2. The book club I run at the library read this book a while and we all really enjoyed this sweet and simple story.

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