The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professeor

Some books stay with you. They make you pause, think and smile whenever they come into your mind. For me, this is definitely one of those books.

It is simple, gentle and character-driven, and it is also moving because it has so much insight into the human condition.

The Housekeeper is a single mother with a ten-year old son. She has a great deal of experience and she knows that she is good at her job, but when she is sent to work for The Professor, a virtuoso mathematician, she is worried.

Why? Well the Professor has been through nine housekeepers before her. And after an accident seventeen years ago the Professor’s short term memory lasts just eighty minutes.

How do you live with something like that? Well, the Professor lives a quiet, solitary life. And he pins notes to his suit. To remind him of the limitations of his memory and the details of his life.

Every morning the Professor meets The Housekeeper for the first time. Yet, a true friendship grows between them.

The Professor infects both the Housekeeper and her son, who he nicknames Root, on account of his flat haircut’s resemblance to a square root sign, with his deep love of the beauty of numbers and mathematics.

And they bond over a shared love of baseball.

I don’t think it matters though is you don’t love numbers or if you don’t love baseball. I love the former but know absolutely nothing about the latter. What is important is the love that the Housekeeper, the Professor and Root have for them and the bond between them that that shared love helps to grow.

But in time it is inevitable that change must come.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a quite lovely history of a friendship.

Characters, themes and a gently developing plot are perfectly blended.

The writing is clear and beautiful. What need to be said is said, but there is also space to realise and appreciate what is not said. The translator has clearly done a wonderful job.

Much has been written about this book, and much more could and probably will be written. But I am moved less to write than to smile and remember happily as I think of The Housekeeper and The Professor.

Definitely a book to cherish.

Translated by Stephen Snyder

14 responses

  1. Of the 100+ books I’ve read so far in 2009, this one is my personal favorite. I’ve given copies to several friends, all of whom have absolutely loved it, too.

  2. A book to cherish? This has now moved up in my top ten to read next year for sure. I loved your thoughts so completely on this one. Have I told you before that I think your writing is quite lovely?

  3. Kathy – I think you’ll love it.

    JoAnn – I’m increasingly drawn to Japanese literature. I’m going to get back to Genji soon. I’ll be interested to see wht you’re reading.

    Jackie – My fingers are crossed for your library. It took Cornwall a while but they bought a couple of copies eventually. I’ll be curious to read your thoughts. I know you’re not always a lover of quietbooks, but this one really is something special.

    J.T. – To my way of thinking there are not many greater accolades you can give a book than that.

    Hedgie – I had read much praise and now I understand why. I definitely have to get a copy of my own to pick up and remember and one day reread.

    Staci – Thank you for your kind words. I am quite sure that you will fall in love with The Housekeeper and The pofessor too.

  4. The Westport (CT) Public Library selected this book for its townwide read for January 2010. The community is loving the writing, the themes, and this intriguing way of weaving math into a novel. Join us for all the events and speakers including a talk by the translator, a neurologist, a Japanese baseball expert, and an individual in the community who has also experienced memory loss. http://www.westportlibrary.org

  5. This sounds SO interesting. I didn’t read much past the information that the Prof. only retains 80 mins. of memory and you’ve got me hooked. Thanks!

  6. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: November 21, 2009 : Semicolon

  7. Pingback: The Housekeeper and The Professor – Yoko Ogawa – Farm Lane Books Blog

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