Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

This is a quiet but lovely little book. Translated from the Japanese, this novel brings together three unlikely people who form their own little family unit.

The Professor is a mathematical genius who, due to a brain injury suffered in a car accident many years earlier, cannot remember more than 80 minutes at a time. He lives a quiet life, content with his numbers as his steady companions in a small cottage. He does not like crowds, and wears dozens of little notes attached to his suits to help remind him of important things.

The Housekeeper is a young woman, a single parent, and an honest and conscientious worker. She is the tenth housekeeper to go to work for the Professor, so she does not expect to last long. Instead, she finds a brilliant hermit of a man who can remember everything up to 1975, when his accident occured, including his mathematical theorems and baseball statistics for his beloved Hanshin Tigers. The Housekeeper also discovers that the Professor has an unrestrained love of children, and when he discovers that she has a 10 year-old son, he insists that he come to his house after school. Her son, who the Professor nicknames, "Root" develops a special bond with the Professor, despite the fact that he must be reintroduced to him every day as if they had never met.

As time goes on, this unlikely trio forms a strong bond and settle into somewhat of a routine, despite the fact that the Professor must constantly remind himself who the Housekeeper and her son are. Spending time with Root, helping him with his homework brings some much-needed life into the Professor's world, and some stability and structure into Root's.

Ogawa's quiet book brings relationships to the forefront and begs the question, what is it that makes a family a family? Her sparse prose is a thing of beauty, even as she is writing about things beyond my ilk, such as mathematical theories. This is a story that does not take long to read, but will leave you thinking about it long after you've finished the book.


Taylorstales-Genealogy said...

Sounds like a great read....I'll order it today! Thanks friend!

Lauren said...

This was a most unusual book, and a refreshing change from all the romance I've been reading! Enjoy!

Taylorstales-Genealogy said...

Thank you Lauren for another great suggestion! The book was indeed a quick read and I really enjoyed the relationship that formed between the Housekeeper, her son, and the Professor especially in light of his "limited memory."