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!!