Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and The Professor is considered a masterpiece of Japanese literature.
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The Housekeeper and The Professor Synopsis
He is a brilliant maths professor with a peculiar problem – ever since a traumatic head injury seventeen years ago, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.
She is a sensitive but astute young housekeeper who is entrusted to take care of him.
Each morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are re-introduced to one another, a strange, beautiful relationship blossoms between them. The Professor may not remember what he had for breakfast, but his mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. He devises clever maths riddles – based on her shoe size or her birthday – and the numbers reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her ten-year-old son.
With each new equation, the three lost souls forge an affection more mysterious than imaginary numbers, and a bond that runs deeper than memory.
Translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder
Exquisite minimalism. I’ve always been a believer that good things come in small packages and this novel by Ogawa is a perfect example.
The characters, a mathematics professor with special needs, his housekeeper and her son, are developed in an understated manner, through their actions. The mathematical concepts are explained with artful simplicity and woven into the telling of the story to great effect.
I found Ogawa’s writing style refreshing – words are not squandered but chosen carefully to extract maximum value. Much is unsaid, leaving things for the audience to ponder long after reading (in a satisfying way).
This charming story is both a mystery and a reflection on people’s need for companionship and how that can be found in the most unconventional of circumstances.
I look forward to reading more from Ogawa in the future.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5 — Overall 4.75
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Genre: Drama, Literature, Translations
About the Author, Yoko Ogawa
Since 1988, Yoko Ogawa has written more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction and has won every major Japanese literary award. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope.