The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa

Cover ImageFinished 10-24-09, rating 4.5/5, fiction, pub. 2003 in Japanese & 2009 in English

In school, I had hated math so much that the mere sight of the textbook made me feel ill.  But the things the Professor taught me seemed to find their way effortlessly into my brain – not because I was an employee anxious to please her employer but because he was such a gifted teacher.  There was something profound in his love for math.  And it helped that he forgot what he’d taught me before, so I was free to repeat the same question until I understood.

Chapter 2

The mathematics Professor was in a car accident in 1975 and as a result he lost his short-term memory.  Every 80 minutes his brain resets and the only memories he has are the ones made before the crash.  He spends his days in a cottage on his sister-in-law’s property solving math problems for prize money.  To make it through he writes notes on scraps of paper and pins them to his suit jacket, which he wears every day.

The Housekeeper, a single mom, is hired to take care of him and the cottage during the day.  When she starts bringing her son, who the Professor nicknames Root, the three form a bond over math and baseball. 

This Japanese story is charming and original.  There are actual math problems in the book and not being a math lover myself (or maybe math doesn’t love me?) I was surprised at how I was drawn into the heartfelt story.  There was beauty in the simplicity of the writing and in the math.  I was rooting for these three who needed and loved each other.  There were even some nice surprises to be found along the way.

I highly recommend this one. 

This was a library copy.

13 thoughts on “The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa

  1. Heather says:

    That reminds me of 50 First Dates with Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler. well, just the short-term memory loss concept. This book really sounds like a great read! Nice review!

    When I described this book the first thing he said was, “Oh, like 50 First Dates.” But in all seriousness, not even close 🙂

  2. Thoughts of Joy says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one so much! I gave it a 4/5, and I love math. 🙂 I like your comment about “. . . maybe math doesn’t love me?” Cute.

    I wanna be liked, but math consisitently acts like I’m not even in the room.

  3. bermudaonion says:

    I was one of those weird kids who like math, so the fact that there’s math in the book makes it sound even better to me!

    I wish I liked math. It would make life a little easier!

  4. Bumbles says:

    Like a cross between Memento and Rainman – but not. If you liked it I bet I will too. Math doesn’t like me either. But baseball does.

    Hmm. Rainman had not occurred to me at all. I’ll have to think on that one.

  5. alitareads says:

    I was drawn to this book months and months ago while I was in a bookstore because of the beautiful cover, but since then it’s become buried in my to-read list. Thanks for reminding me that I need to read it!

    I love the cover too.

  6. fleurfisher says:

    This is still on my libray pile and I’m looking forward to it all the more now. I have always loved maths – as we call it this side of the Atlantic!

    maths. I’ve heard people call it that over here too, but it’s only correct if you are saying it with a British accent 🙂

  7. Dawn says:

    I want to read this book! My ‘old’ book group (that I moved away from 2 years ago) just discussed it. I try to keep up with what they’re reading, but I fell behind on this one. Great review, Stacy … you’ve got me to put it on my wish list.

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