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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Housekeeper and the Professor

I have literally just finished reading Yoko Ogawa's brilliant book, The Housekeeper and the Professor. And right now I am in awe. I can't believe that this novel evoked such strong emotions from me, but it did. The writing was wonderful because it centered on the strange and beautiful relationship between a brilliant mathematician, his astute housekeeper, and her 10 year old son, Root. To begin, we meet The Housekeeper who has taken on a new job working for a mathematician whose mind only retains 80 minutes worth of information at a time. To keep things in order, he has taken to pinning notes onto his suit: a reminder that his mind has a short-term memory of 80 minutes, a reminder of his new housekeeper and her son, a reminder of where he can find his pills, etc. All day long the Professor spends his time working on mathematical problems, while the Housekeeper tends to the house. At night she returns home to her son. However, upon learning that she has a son, the Professor tells the Housekeeper that she must bring her son to work in order to ensure his safety (he would go to the park after school and then home). Her son and the Professor become fast friends and begin to look forward to spending time with each other. Because of his flat head, the Professor nicknames the boy, Root (square root). Soon the Housekeeper, Professor and the Root fall into a familiar routine of working all day, listening to the radio at night and enjoying each other's company over dinner. However, the Professor's sister-in-law (she hired the Housekeeper to tend her brother-in-law's house because of his mind glitch) catches wind of an overnight stay (the Professor was sick and so the Housekeeper and her son both stayed to care for him) and has the Housekeeper promptly fired. We soon find the Housekeeper employed by a rude company and having to leave her son home alone again. Missing the Professor and his love of numbers, both the Housekeeper and Root make do with their memories of the Professor. However, things change when the Housekeeper receives a call that the Professor's sister-in-law has requested her services once again. Soon enough, The Professor, Housekeeper and Root are reunited. The story goes on to reveal truths from the past and future and shows us ways in which the Professor's love of math forged such lifelong connections. We learn so much through the astute observations the Housekeeper makes with regards to the Professor's work habits, his gestures, his moods, etc and we learn about her connection to this man and the ways in which he has impacted her life and Root's. This book is written in such an elegant manner with such simple words that the reader cannot help but become immersed in it. The use of numbers as a means of communication for the Professor is amazing because it shows how much he regales these symbols that have afforded him prizes and distinction during his career and have continued to provide him with a familiarity that calms him and brings him peace. There is just so much to write about this wonderful story that I could go on and on and on, but I won't because I do not want to give away too much. The Housekeeper and the Professor is by far one of the best books that I have read this year and I highly recommend it to everyone! I originally read this book in order to complete the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 (which actually does complete the challenge for me), but am happy to say that this book is one that I will revisit from time to time for the pure pleasure of reading it. Happy reading to all!!

14 comments:

Bellezza said...

I, too, will revisit this book. It's a work of beauty, that will remain in our hearts for a long time, don't you think? I'm glad that you loved it as did I.

Lit and Life said...

Brilliant does sum this one up. I hadn't really heard much about it before I read it and it was such a wonderful surprise.

Congrats on finishing a challenge!

mel u said...

This book is near the top of my want list for the Japanese Challenge-thank you for your superbly done review

Nadia said...

I know! It is such a fantastic read!

Bellezza - I totally agree with you that this book is a work of beauty and I know it will remain in my heart for a long time.

Lit and Life - Thanks for the congrats on my finally finishing a challenge. I think I'm finally on a roll reading wise; for a while there I was kind of in a slump (hence the movies I watched for the Everything Austen Challenge).

Mel U - Thanks for enjoying my review. Can't wait to read what you thought of this book! Cheers!

Green Road said...

How interesting. The best part of challenges is coming across books that you wouldn't normally have heard of.

Maxine said...

The public library of Westport, CT, has selected this book as its townwide read for January 2010.

Nadia said...

Green Road- I know! Its so true, all of these reading challenges are introducing me to new books (like for the R.I.P. Challenge I am reading a Tana French book - an author I had never heard of before and for the Everything Austen Challenge I am going to read Sense and Sensibility and other Austenish things that I wouldn't normally read or watch). I love it!

Maxine- I think its so great that your town library chose this lovely book as its townwide read for Jan 2010. How cool is that! I wish our local library did something like that, but I have to be frank and admit our library is a bit dismal with its selection, let alone its activities. Well, I can't wait to read what you thought of this book next year!

westcobich said...

I didn't read the whole review because only five lines into it, I decided to add it to my TBR stack, and maybe even get it read before the Japanese challenge III ends. Thanks for this one! (and I love the cover!)

Suko said...

Excellent, thoughtful review. I'm adding this book to my TBR list.

Steph said...

I've seen this one kicking around on a few blogs, and it sounds really good! The premise really intrigues me, and I won't lie that it is geekishly because the professor spends all his time on those math problems! Though not always the case, books that explore the nature of memory generally seem to wind up being quite beautiful, don't they?
Also, I love the cover, and we all know I can't resist books with pretty covers. ;)

Nadia said...

westcobich - So glad you liked the review! This book is truly amazing and definitely one of the best written books I've read this year. I agree with you on the cover - it is so lovely! I think I am going to read Murakami book for the Challenge. I figure why not read one more, right? Plus, Murakami books are always such great read!

Suko - Thanks! Can't wait to read what you thought of this book!

Steph - I have to admit that the book cover drew me to the book - it is gorgeous!! And of course this idea of an 80 minute short term memory intrigued me (especially since he was a prof of math). Such a wonderful book!!

sarah pekkanen said...

This sounds wonderful! Sad but uplifting, from your description. I'm going to keep my eye out for it. I haven't read The Pact yet, but I also enjoyed My Sister's Keeper. Something about JP's writing just draws me in!
And many thanks for your kind words on my BBAW post.

Meryl said...

I liked this one too--quiet, but beautiful.

claire said...

I just read it, lovely. I didn't read your review before as I don't like knowing about a book; like to be surprised. You are right.. I too will be rereading this.. a keeper. :)