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The Housekeeper and the Professor

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He is a brilliant math professor, with a peculiar problem--since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. She is an astute young housekeeper with a ten-year-old son who is hired to care for him. And between them a strange, beautiful relationship blossoms. Though the professor can hold new memories for only eighty minutes, his mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past; and through him, the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the housekeeper and her son. The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family where one before did not exist.

180 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 2003

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About the author

Yōko Ogawa

130 books3,439 followers
Yōko Ogawa (小川 洋子) was born in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture, graduated from Waseda University, and lives in Ashiya. Since 1988, she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Professor and his Beloved Equation has been made into a movie. In 2006 she co-authored „An Introduction to the World's Most Elegant Mathematics“ with Masahiko Fujiwara, a mathematician, as a dialogue on the extraordinary beauty of numbers.

A film in French, "L'Annulaire“ (The Ringfinger), directed by Diane Bertrand, starring Olga Kurylenko and Marc Barbé, was released in France in June 2005 and subsequently made the rounds of the international film festivals; the film, some of which is filmed in the Hamburg docks, is based in part on Ogawa's "Kusuriyubi no hyōhon“ (薬指の標本), translated into French as "L'Annulaire“ (by Rose-Marie Makino-Fayolle who has translated numerous works by Ogawa, as well as works by Akira Yoshimura and by Ranpo Edogawa, into French).

Kenzaburō Ōe has said, 'Yōko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating.' The subtlety in part lies in the fact that Ogawa's characters often seem not to know why they are doing what they are doing. She works by accumulation of detail, a technique that is perhaps more successful in her shorter works; the slow pace of development in the longer works requires something of a deus ex machina to end them. The reader is presented with an acute description of what the protagonists, mostly but not always female, observe and feel and their somewhat alienated self-observations, some of which is a reflection of Japanese society and especially women's roles within in it. The tone of her works varies, across the works and sometimes within the longer works, from the surreal, through the grotesque and the--sometimes grotesquely--humorous, to the psychologically ambiguous and even disturbing.

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Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68k followers
October 23, 2019
Life by the Numbers

Numbers are everywhere - Real, Natural, Imaginary, Perfect, Amicable, Abundant, Deficient, Triangular, Prime (including both Mersenne and Pernicious as well as Twins) to name a few. And they're all here in The Housekeeper and the Professor, which Ms. Ogawa wrote in 2007. The Professor is of mathematics and has amnesia; the housekeeper is devoted and has a son. This melange constitutes the cast of a charming story of mathematics and love, subjects with a connection that is less than obvious. But there is a connection and it is fundamental and profound.

For a mathematician, defined by intensity of temperament not level of education, numbers are not simply classified as 'kinds' or 'types'. They are living species with distinctive genetic characteristics, with real family resemblances and lasting relationships, indeed with personalities. Some are rare, some shy, some awkward, some maddeningly unpredictable. Some may be hidden in infinity, some are waiting, desperate to be identified, and some may even be the last of their line, but we can't be sure. The ultimate mathematical accolade afforded to any number is to give it a family name, a formula by which all its relatives can be identified, even those we haven't met yet.

Thus the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 10 equals 55. But that is just this number's first name, as it were. It's family name is n(n-1)/2+n. All the numbers, 1 to n, in this family are related to each other and have this name. The numbers themselves have always known this, we as thinking human beings who aren't numbers, took some considerable time to recognise the fact.

Numbers, as living things, of course interbreed. They may be members of different families simultaneously. Plotting out the sister and brothers and cousins and aunts and the in-laws of numerical familial relations is what keeps mathematicians up at night. There are so many interesting genetic modifications, so many hidden liaisons, so many queer numbers waiting, and proudly wanting, to be outed. And the discovery of new families increases the possible connections among all the families. There's no end to the fun.

But why is such an appreciation of numbers of significance in a piece of fiction about amnesia? I think the answer to this question is best found through a comparison: The American novelist, Nicole Krauss, published her first book, Man Walks Into a Room, in 2002. Her novel has the same premise as Ogawa's, namely the condition of amnesia in a man who has suffered severe trauma. Both books then explore the relationship between memory and feelings in the victim - on the residual emotional bonds the victim maintains from his past, as well as their ability to create new relationships of intimacy.

Ogawa's amnesiac is even more disabled than Krauss's because the Professor's condition is anterograde amnesia which inhibits the creation of any new memories. So his memory 'store' consists of his life up to his early 30's plus the last 80 minutes, which recycles like a CarCam with a 16GB memory card. The condition of Krauss's victim is merely retrograde, meaning historical memories only are affected. He has, as it were, started a new reel in the film of his life; the entirety of this reel is available to him.

It is clear from the beginning that Krauss's story is going to end tragically. Samson Greene, her protagonist, whose trauma erased his memory back to his adolescence, is an emotional goner. His wife is not merely a stranger to him, she also evokes not the least emotional response in him; nor do any of the mementoes, photographs and other trinkets of their life together.

It is possible in fact that Samson is permanently crippled emotionally. Loss of memory is the equivalent of a comprehensive loss of affection and affective ability. He, sadly for the reader, also has not the slightest inclination to re-kindle his marriage and considers himself none the worse for it. He is not cruel, merely ennuied; his strongest emotion is melancholy

Ogawa tells a very different story. Although her mathematics Professor has a blank memory from his early 30's, his emotions are still stirred by the son of his housekeeper with whom he immediately feels an intense relationship of care. Despite the fact that the Professor must re-create this relationship every day from scratch, it in fact deepens on the basis of the mathematical tutorial that he has undertaken with the boy and his mother. His memory is blank, yet he has some level of residual emotional instinct and his capacity for relationship to his past life still exists.

I think that it is only in comparison with each other that both these novels can be recognised as profound metaphysical statements, contradictory to each other, but self-verifying by the protagonists, perhaps even to their authors. If I am correct, the responses of readers will depend primarily on the fundamental presumptions they hold not just about life but about existence itself. Here's why:

Krauss presents a decidedly Aristotelian vision of the world. Samson Greene is a physical scientist. He is a materialist in the sense that he lives in a world of strict cause and effect. Memory is a necessary causal condition for Samson’s emotions. Everything must have a cause and all causes are material in character. So no memory, no emotion. The cause/effect chain in his brain has been interrupted. The result is not simply that he doesn’t recognise his wife, he doesn’t recognise himself. He has lost his identity. He cannot remember his own name. While he mildly regrets these facts, he feels nothing more about them.

Ogawa's Professor is Platonist rather than Aristotelian. He lives in a world of Platonic forms - the apotheosis of which are numbers - that are independent not only him but of the world itself. Numbers are "contained in the notebooks of God himself." In effect numbers are attributes of God: eternal, perfect, trustworthy, and, most significantly, uncreated. They are not part of any chain of cause and effect. Yet their reality mysteriously governs the world. They are unaffected by the Professor’s injury and therefore provide what is a spiritual continuity in a materially interrupted life. While these number-forms cannot compensate for the Professor’s material deficiency, they permit him to keep his identity, which for a Platonist is a spiritual not a material entity. Numbers also mediate his current, otherwise fleeting, relationships, which spiritual things as well.

Consequently, Krauss’s story is one of irretrievable tragedy. Irretrievable because the gap in causality can never be recovered. The gap is a hole into which Samson's existence has fallen. He continues to be in the world but as a fundamentally altered being. That same gap exists for the Professor, and is just as materially unrecoverable. But the number-forms maintain their influence and ‘remind’ his material body on a daily basis of their existence, and his. They evoke the Professor's emotions, particularly love, which are not materially but spiritually-grounded. The Professor is debilitated but his ontology, his mode of being, is what it has always been.

Samson suffers mildly but has no real grief. He is now something other than human. He will probably function adequately and be perceived as normal, if somewhat aloof, by the world at large. The Professor on the other hand, may be pitiable to some, like his sister-in-law, and he does suffer, often intensely. But he is not pitiable to his housekeeper and her son. Through practical love and instinctive respect, they adapt to his condition and learn to live in his Platonic world, to their benefit as well as his. In a small but important way, he has improved the world.

Toward the end of Ogawa's book she has the Professor write a formula as a insistent communication to his sister-in-law:
This formula is known as Euler's Identity after the 18th century Swiss mathematician. It has been called the most beautiful formula in mathematics. Its beauty lies in its synthesis of at least four fundamentally different mathematical universes: Transcendental, Imaginary, Natural, and Irrational numbers. Each of these mathematical families has a genetic character as distinct as, say, the genetics of an earthworm and a human being. On the face of it, they should have no family connections whatsoever. But this is precisely what Euler's Identity shows they do have. It is an unparalleled 'abduction,’ or intuitive leap that couldn't have been arrived at by logical deduction or empirical induction.

The significance of Euler's Identity in the book is reasonably clear: It is the Professor’s way of expressing the synthesis of the worlds that he, his sister-in-law, his housekeeper, and her son are living in. Each is included without being denied, just as each mathematical family is included without being negated or changed in the Identity. A brilliant literary as well as mathematical insight therefore.

I have no idea if Ogawa has ever read Krauss, or if she has whether she intended to write a fictional riposte to Krauss’s Aristotelian materialism. Regardless, the two books certainly help to demonstrate what I think is the essential point of the other: It makes a fundamental difference in our lives what implicit philosophy we assimilate or adopt, perhaps without any awareness of the event. Perhaps we are simply born into one tendency or another, without the possibility of choice.

In either case, I am an inveterate Platonist and, like the Professor, find numbers unaccountably comforting. Who knows, they might even help me through my increasingly deficient aged memory. So for me Ogawa has written something far more than a merely charming piece of fiction. She has, either intentionally or inadvertently, addressed a fundamental issue of human existence. Thank you Ms. Ogawa.

See: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... for a discussion of the implications of these two books as a critique of science more generally.
See: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... for another literary use of number theory.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,079 reviews6,882 followers
January 10, 2023
[Edited, spoilers hidden 1/10/23]

The story is set in Japan. A housekeeper is hired to clean and cook for an elderly former mathematics professor who suffered a brain injury. (He’s 64 – is that elderly? lol) He can only remember new things for 80 minutes. So each day when she arrives at his house she has to re-introduce herself.

Every day he asks her some numerical question ranging from her birthday to her shoe size and he expounds about some unique aspect of the numbers of her response. Over time, of course, he asks her the same questions numerous times.


When he finds out that she has a ten-year old boy who is a latch-key kid waiting at home for her, he insists that she let the boy come over after school. So the boy starts learning math. We learn quite a bit about simple math in the process – things like prime numbers and amicable numbers. And I probably shouldn’t say ‘simple’ math – I should say ‘easily understandable’ math the way it is presented. (The Wikipedia review of the book has a list of a dozen math concepts talked about in the book.)

The professor and the boy are also fascinated by baseball stats. The professor still thinks his favorite baseball team has the same players it had in 1975 when he suffered his injury. She takes them both to a baseball game – neither has ever been. Little by little they basically become a family.

Interest is added to the story by the professor’s quirks, and he has plenty. She’s the ninth housekeeper her agency has sent recently – the others quit or were removed. There’s a mystery she solves about the relationship between the professor and his widowed sister-in-law. And the housekeeper has to solve the mystery of the professor’s injury on her own.


It’s a good story and the way the math is presented is fun, so that shouldn’t deter anyone from reading the book. The author (b. 1962) is a prolific writer with about 30 works of fiction. This book was made into a film in Japan with the title The Professor's Beloved Equation. The Memory Police and this book are her two best-known works in English.

Photo of a Japanese cottage from merrimackdesign.com
The author from pen-online.com
Profile Image for Brina.
887 reviews4 followers
August 18, 2020
Happy Cubs opening day! 2018 has not been the reading year I had planned on so far. Real life and the stress that goes with it have gotten in the way of being able to focus on reading. Hopefully that changes. In the meantime in honor of the Cubs first home game this year, I am reposting my favorite baseball book from last year, a lovely novella that I am fortunate did not fly under my radar. The Housekeeper and the Professor was recommended to me by my Goodreads' friend Diane because she knows that I love baseball. This March, Japan is participating in the World Baseball Classic so I found this slim novel to be a reminder that America’s pastime is now played happily all over the world.

Yoko Ogawa has been a leading Japanese novelist for twenty years. In this touching story, she creates a family out of a housekeeper, her ten year old son, and the math professor whose cottage they were asked to tend to. The Professor is a math genius, but seventeen years prior to the events of this novel he suffered brain trauma in an accident. As a result his short term memory is only 80 minutes long, and he clips notes to his suit in order to remember important information. Fortunately, the math theorems for which he earned a PhD and many honors as well as his ability to teach them remain intact. Yet, despite this brilliant mind, he is unable to care for himself because of the memory loss and requires a full time Housekeeper to assist him at home. His sister would rather that he not have a housekeeper, however, because she believes that she can care for him herself. She does not exhibit any love toward her brother and makes his condition out to be worse than it is so that no person is willing to fill the position.

It takes a special person to care for those with memory loss. I have seen that first hand in my life. The Housekeeper is a single mother. She is the first Housekeeper who stayed with the Professor for more than one day because she overlooked his 80 minute memory loop. Rather, she embraced learning abstract mathematical concepts such as amicable numbers, perfect numbers, and the professor's love for prime numbers. When he finds out that she is a working mother, he insists that she brings her son to work. What ensues is a touching relationship between the Professor and ten year old Root. Ogawa is able to bridge the gap between the most unlikely of friends by writing about numbers as the universal language. The Professor says that G-D made numbers before people, and the proofs were always there waiting to be discovered. She inserts actual mathematical proofs rather than writing about them, which both speeds up the novel, and allows the Housekeeper to know the Professor on his level.

This gap is also bridged by Root and the Professor's shared love of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team. As a multigenerational fan of the same team, I have seen first hand how baseball is more than a game but a love shared by families. This is evident as the professor fixes his radio so that Root can listen to games, and together they follow the Tigers on their drive toward the pennant. Because baseball is a game of numbers, Ogawa includes statistics and probability in order to show that the Professor loves the game as much as children do. What touched me the most coincidentally is the Professor’s love of the number 28 because to him it is a perfect number that was worn by his favorite Tigers’ pitcher in the days when his memory was lucid enough to remember him pitching a no hitter. Today, our favorite Cubs’ pitcher wears number 28. He is a control pitcher who is capable of pitching a no hitter every time out and attended Dartmouth of the Ivy League. His nickname: The Professor.

Being a mother of a boy close in age to Root who loves both baseball and math as well as one who has seen older family members succumb to memory loss, I felt like I could relate to the characters in this story. In her last years, my grandmother could not remember how old I was or how many kids I had or that I had kids at all, but if I mentioned Ernie Banks, her eyes lit up. Thus, I was moved by the relationship of the three characters in this slim novel, and enjoyed trying to solve the math proofs along with the housekeeper and hoped upon hope that the professor’s dementia would improve even though from experience I knew it would not. Ogawa is a new author for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story that brings together an untraditional family who is drawn to the beauty of the numbers of baseball.

5 star ⚾️ 👨‍🏫 🔢 🇯🇵 read
Profile Image for Adina.
793 reviews3,061 followers
August 24, 2021
Women in Translation 2021 book 3

I finished the novel two weeks ago and it already started to fade from my memory. As a result, it is going to be a short review. The Housekeeper and the Professor is sweet story about the relationship between a Mathematics professor, his maid and her son. To make the plot more interesting, the professor has some sort of amnesia where he losses his memory after 80 minutes. He only remembers what happened before the accident which caused his affliction. It is a book about friendships, the wonderful world of numbers and baseball. I enjoyed the part where we learn about the characters life stories. The math problems were also interesting but I got a bit bored when the focus of the novel shifted to baseball.

This is the 2nd book I read by the author and it will probably be my last. I liked both of them but they failed to impress me and to leave a memorable imprint in my brain. Ironic, when the other book I read by her is called The Memory Police.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,228 reviews527 followers
January 5, 2013
On originally reading a description of this novel I wondered if it was really for me. Did I want to read about a Professor with a memory span of 80 minutes and the Housekeeper who assists him? I'm so glad I decided to read it and I'm happy to have my own copy. This story of memory, math, building a pseudo-family where no relationship has existed before is full of love and compassion. The emotions are mostly expressed in mathematical theorems, cooking and random touch, but it is palpable throughout the book. I had to remind myself repeatedly that this is a novel, not a memoir. It feels like life, a life beautifully lived. The emotions are still high as I write this review.

The blending of the math into the arc of life is amazing. I am a math-phobe and always have been. I could feel my resistance wearing down while reading and a subtle understanding of why others love the world of numbers beginning to grow. The Professor, and the housekeeper, would be pleased.

Highly recommended for its sensitive treatment of relationships.

Addendum 1/5/13: I realize that I truly love this book and it has only risen in my esteem over time. Therefore I am going to change its rating to the 5 stars it probably should have been initially.
Profile Image for Petra left her heart in Miami.
2,405 reviews34k followers
May 6, 2015
This is a beautifully-written, elegant little book about an old man, a maths professor, his housekeeper and her young son. The professor's memory post-1975 is only 80 minutes long, so everything is fresh and new to him all the time, including the news his memory is only 80 minutes long. The housekeeper has her own problems but finds fulfillment in the relationship, ever renewed, between her son and the professor and her growing love for mathematics. It is a mark of the author's writing that the fourth character, the linchpin of the story remains in the shadows but no more on that, otherwise I'd have to mark this with a 'spoiler' flag.

The book is a short read, mesmerising in its intensity and absolutely unique, I've never read another book even slightly like this one. Certainly I've never read anything about logarithms, mathematical conjectures and proofs that I ever even understood, let alone enjoyed. But now I know a bit more about maths, and wish I'd had a teacher who could have shown me the magic rather than the grind behind numbers.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
May 24, 2022
博士の愛した数式 = Hakase no ai Shita Suushiki = The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yōko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a novel by Yōko Ogawa set in modern-day Japan. It was published in August 2003.

The story centers around a mathematician, "the Professor," who suffered brain damage in a traffic accident in 1975 and since then can produce only 80 minutes' worth of memories, and his interactions with a housekeeper (the narrator) and her son "Root" as the Professor shares the beauty of equations with them.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز چهاردهم ماه آگوست سال2014میلادی

عنوان: خدمتکار و پروفسور؛ نویسنده: یوکو اگاوا؛ مترجم: کیهان بهمنی‏‫؛ تهران، نشر آموت‏‫، سال‏‫1391؛ ‬‬در248ص؛ شابک9786006605173؛ چاپهای دوم تا چهارم سال1392؛ چاپ پنجم سال1394؛ چاپهای ششم تا هشتم سال1395؛ چاپهای نهم و دهم سال1396؛ چاپ یازدهم 1397؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ژاپن - سده21م

عنوان: خدمتکار و پروفسور؛ نویسنده: یوکو اگاوا؛ مترجم: شقایق نظر‌زاده‏‫؛ ویراستار حسین گودرزی؛ تهران کتاب نشر نیکا‏‫، ‬‬در183ص؛

داستان از زبان «خدمتکار» بازگشایی می‌شود؛ او و پسرش «جـَـذر» نگاهبانی از «پروفسور» را بر دوش دارند؛ «جذر» نام راستین پسرک نیست؛ این اسم را پروفسور روی پسربچه بگذاشته، چون موهایش او را به یاد علامت رادیکال می‌اندازد؛ پروفسور در یک تصادف به شدت آسیب دیده، و برای همین حافظه ی کوتاه‌ مدتش بیشتر از هشتاد دقیقه یادمانها و اطلاعات را در خود نگهداری نمی‌کند؛ او تئوری‌های پیچیده ریاضی، یا نام بازیکنان محبوب بیس‌بال‌ خویش را به خوبی به یاد دارد، اما خدمتکار ناچار است، هر روز صبح که کارش را آغاز می‌کند، خود را به او معرفی کند؛ گاهی برخی روزها حتی بیش از یکبار باید خود را معرفی کند؛ برای وضعیت پروفسور، خدمتکار تلاش می‌کند، تا راه‌هایی بیابد تا بتواند با او به بهترین وجه کنار بیاید و کارش را انجام دهد؛ حتی شده برای هشتاد دقیقه؛

نقل نمونه متن: (تاريخ بعضی از یادداشت‌ها گذشته بود و دیگر کاربردی نداشتند؛ یک ماه پیش بود که «جذر» کیک بخار پخته‌ شده‌ ی کوچکی را که در کلاس اقتصاد خانواده درست کرده بود برای پروفسور آورده بود؛ اما به نظرم درست نبود که آن یادداشت‌ها را دور بریزم؛ برای همین حتی همان‌ها را هم در کمال احترام نگه داشتم؛ همین طور که داشتم یادداشت‌ها را می‌خواندم با خودم فکر می‌کردم چقدر برای پروفسور سخت است که روزش را با این یادداشت‌ها سر کند و تمام تلاشش را بکند تا کسی متوجه دشواری زندگی‌اش نشود؛ سعی کردم تا می‌توانم زودتر کارم را انجام بدهم و خیلی جابه‌جایی یادداشت‌ها را طول ندهم؛ هنگامی که دوباره تمام یادداشت‌ها را به لباس سنجاق کردم کت تابستانی پروفسور آماده شد؛ چند هفته‌ ای بود که پروفسور روی یک مسئله‌ ی بی‌نهایت سخت کار می‌کرد؛ مسأله ای که ژورنال رياضيات بالاترین جایزه‌ ی نقدی دوران کاری خود را برای خواننده‌ ای که قادر به حل آن مسأله باشد، در نظر گرفته بود؛ پروفسور به جایزه‌ ی نقدی حل این مسأله اهمیتی نمی‌داد زیرا برای او لذت دشواری حل مسأله مهم‌تر بود؛ چندین چک از طرف ژورنال‌های مختلف داخل پاکت باز نشده روی میز هال بود و هر وقت از پروفسور می‌پرسیدم که می‌خواهد وقتی به اداره‌ ی پست می‌روم آن چک‌ها را نقد کنم یا نه او به نشانه‌ی ب��‌اهمیتی شانه بالا می‌انداخت؛ دست‌ آخر از آژانس خواستم نامه‌ها را به آدرس همسر برادر پروفسور بفرستد؛ ظاهر پروفسور بهم می‌فهماند که این مسأله جدید بسیار سخت است؛ پروفسور سر این مسأله آن‌قدر به مغزش فشار می‌آورد که ممکن بود از پا بیفتد؛ طوری غرق در حل مسأله می‌شد که انگار به نحوی در ذهن خود فرو می‌رفت و گاهی فکر می‌کردم ممکن است جسم پروفسور به تدریج بخار شده، تبدیل به افکار و در نهایت ناپدید شود.)؛ پایان

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 29/04/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 02/03/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Maggie Stiefvater.
Author 65 books167k followers
February 23, 2023
This novel is a brief, delicate, slow-moving character portrait. The Housekeeper is a gentle but stubborn single mother who never finished school; the Professor is a math genius with a short term memory of only 80 minutes following a long-ago head injury. The plot of the book, in its entirety, is: will they become friends?

In between their first meeting and the ultimate culmination of friendship, there is a lot of math, baseball, and math about baseball. Personally, as someone who comes from a more genre reading background, I was really longing by the end for a little magic, or a little murder, or a little mayhem. I think it reads like a long-form poem about relationships and math and truth than a novel, and if that is what you are in the mood for, you'll love it—the stakes are quite low and the vibes are quite high. It reminded me ever so slightly of Elizabeth McCracken's THE GIANT'S HOUSE . . . I think if you adored that one, you might like this one.

*note: I tackled this book as part of my 2023 reading challenge to read books from this crowd-sourced list of recommended standalone novels published between 1985-2007: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/...

Please know that I am a brittle and crotchety reader, so please don't take my opinions on these novels as universal.
Profile Image for Robin.
475 reviews2,554 followers
October 8, 2020
In comparison with Ogawa's The Memory Police and Hotel Iris, this story is particularly gentle and sweet. Naturally, that means it didn't grab me by the neck like her other work. But it did have its way of getting in and tugging those heartstrings.

This is a short novel about a woman (the housekeeper) who comes to care for her employer (the professor), who is a mathematical genius, but who also has a very limited short term memory (80 minutes).

Because he starts fresh every 80 minutes, the present becomes of utmost importance. The housekeeper, her young son, and the professor create beautiful times together in these 80 minute snips. During these times, he shares his deep love for numbers and their poetic, natural elegance.

While his recollection lasts 80 minutes, his impact on the housekeeper and her son is lifelong. Maybe for the fact that the friendship they extend calls on them to be selfless - any kindness is forgotten in minutes, and must be given almost anonymously, to impart temporary joy at best. There's a purity in that.

Math and baseball feature heavily here - neither are subjects that particularly draw me. But the mysteries explored in this short book go beyond sports and numbers.

Eternal truths are ultimately invisible, and you won't find them in material things or natural phenomena, or even in human emotions. Mathematics, however, can illuminate them, can give them expression -- in fact, nothing can prevent it from doing so.

The three characters create a life together, a life built on a series of 80 minute segments. What a beautiful formula: one single mother + a ten year old boy who loves baseball + an aging mathematician with a memory problem = a family.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
857 reviews1,727 followers
September 17, 2022
The book heavily revolves around math and baseball, and I am not a fan of either. And the thing is these two takes a lot of time in this story. Removing those parts, this book was a lovely story of friendship and respect among three people. I really liked how the relationship between professor and maid, professor and her son blossomed slowly. But in the I didn't care about any of them and hence the three stars.
Profile Image for Swrp.
561 reviews106 followers
November 19, 2021
It has never been much of a friendly relationship with Mathematics. In fact I have always been a wee bit petrified of this subject, the study of numbers. So, there was a hesitation to pick up The Housekeeper and the Professor when the first line of the blurb stated that this "story centers around a mathematician". However, when the next line read as "this Professor has only 80 minutes' worth of memories due to an accident", this book got added to the 'currently reading' shelf.

The narrator of this story is the Housekeeper. She works for an agency and is deputed to work in the home of the Professor. The Housekeeper learns quickly about the medical condition of the Professor, also that his interest is only in Mathematics and does not care for anything or anyone else ["Numbers were also his way of reaching out to the world".]. When the Professor learns that the Housekeeper has a son who is always left alone at home, he gets angry and asks to get the boy to his home going forward. In few days, the boy and the Professor become friendly, and he is named 'Root'. ["He treated Root exactly as he treated prime numbers. For him, primes were the base on which all other natural numbers relied; and children were the foundation of everything worthwhile in the adult world."] From then on, things change slightly for the better.

"In mathematics, the truth is somewhere out there in a place no one knows, beyond all the beaten paths. And it's not always at the top of the mountain. It might be in a crack on the smoothest cliff or somewhere deep in the valley."

In this story, there is a lot to learn, understand and think. It is about relationships - between people, between numbers and also between people and numbers. We get to learn about what makes some numbers special, but in the end we realise that every number is special and it is the combination that makes them extraordinary. Doesn't the same apply for humans also!?

"He had a special feeling for what he called the "correct miscalculation," for he believed that mistakes were often as revealing as the right answers."

Even though the Professor's medical condition is sad, it also felt peaceful and light to have such less burden to carry. We all tend to, both physically and mentally, cram every available space with something or the other. What if the given space is limited, and there is no option to increase or extend it!?

But then, did you know there is something called an 'abundant number' and a 'deficient number'? And, there are 'amicable numbers,' which apparently are extremely rare. Nothing surprising there, and this also appears to be common between numbers and humans.

"Math has proven the existence of God, because it is absolute and without contradiction; but the devil must exist as well, because we cannot prove it."

From the notes:
But it's not something you can put into words—explaining why a formula is beautiful is like trying to explain why the stars are beautiful."
I uncovered propositions that existed out there long before we were born. It's like copying truths from God's notebook, though we aren't always sure where to find this notebook or when it will be open.
...but there seemed to be great clarity in his reasoning, as if he were pushing through to a profound truth.
"The smallest perfect number is 6: 6 = 1 + 2 + 3." "Oh! Then they're not so special after all."
Only a few people know the mystery concealed in this formula, and the rest of us go to our graves without even suspecting there is a secret to be revealed.
"That's right, a desert. No matter how far you go, you don't find any. Just sand as far as the eye can see. The sun shines down mercilessly, your throat is parched, your eyes glaze over. Then you think you see one, a prime number at last, and you go running toward it—only to find that it's just a mirage, nothing but hot wind. Still, you refuse to give up, staggering on step by step, determined to continue the search ... until you see it at last, the oasis of another prime number, a place of rest and cool, clear water...."
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews100 followers
February 11, 2018
Amicable numbers – pair of keyrings Nerd Romance (https://mathsgear.co.uk/products/amic...)

Not that kind of love story, but a sad, sweet story about an unlikely friendship between a brilliant mathematician, his housekeeper and her son. There is love just no romance.

The Professor is 64 years old. He suffered a brain injury at age 47. He has an 80-minute retention for new memories ever since his accident. He covers his suit in notes to remember new information. He loves math, numbers, children and his favorite baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers. His favorite player is the legendary strikeout pitcher, Yutaka Enatsu.

Except for the son who the Professor calls Root because the top of his head is flat like a square root sign none of them have names. There is also the Professor’s Sister-in-law or the Widow, she manages the Professor’s affairs and hires the Housekeeper.

The mathematician's personality is usually credited as based on the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős (26 March 1913 – 20 September 1996), because Erdős biography "The Man Who Loved Numbers" is in the bibliography. Although the disabling injury is strictly Ogawa’s Professor, Erdős worked prolifically until his fatal heart attack at a conference in Warsaw. He is shown here with mathematician rock star Terence Tao in 1985.

Image: Grace Tao (https://curiosity.com/topics/terence-...)

The Hanshin Tigers, one of Japan’s oldest professional teams, and Yutaka Enatsu (born 15 May 1948) feature prominently in the story. Root and the Professor are fans. The importance of a treasured baseball card collection is part of their friendship.
Since Enatsu had retired long before Root was born, he’d gone to the library to find out about him. He learned that he had a career record of 206 wins, 158 losses, 193 saves, with 2,987 strikeouts. He’d hit a home run in his second at bat as a pro; he had short fingers for a pitcher. He’d struck out his great rival, Sadaharu Oh, more than any other pitcher, but he’d also surrendered the most home runs to him. In the course of their rivalry, however, he’d never hit Oh with a pitch. During the 1968 season, he set a world record with 401 strikeouts, and after the 1975 season (the year the Professor’s memory came to an end), he’d been traded to the Nankai Hawks….
He’d chosen 28. Enatsu had played his whole career with a perfect number on his back!

#28 Yutaka Enatsu

You can enjoy the book without an appreciation of baseball or mathematics, but they would be a plus.


Amicable Number: If two numbers are such that the sum of the perfect divisors of one number is equal to the other number and the sum of the perfect divisors of the other number is equal to the first number, then the numbers are called Amicable Numbers.


Profile Image for Cecily.
1,106 reviews3,880 followers
August 30, 2017
An enjoyable Japanese novel that scatters numbers, and facts about the brain, though it's primarily about friendship. It feels light, but prompts profound questions.

The sit

The eponymous housekeeper is a young single mother (herself the only child of a single mother) with a ten-year-old son. She becomes daily housekeeper to a former maths professor whose head injury in 1975 means he only remembers the most recent 80 minutes, plus things before 1975, nearly 20 years before the story is set (~1992).

Numbers are now the professor's life. He works on problems for magazine competitions, and he comes alive when he spots numbers or patterns to explain to his increasingly interested housekeeper. When he discovers his housekeeper has a son, he is adamant that the boy must come to the house after school and in the holidays: he adores children, and thinks their needs (or his exaggerated perception of them) are more important than anything else. Thus a relationship is built between the prof and the boy (nicknamed Root - as in square root), based on numbers and baseball statistics. His short memory span makes him an incredibly patient teacher.

Despite all the notes, he has to start each day, each situation, anew. (The hire and fire nature of a housekeeping agency has parallels.)

The practicalities and humour of coping with the prof's condition are well portrayed, and the relationships are very touching.

The questions

Despite the efforts of the housekeeper and her son, the professor's capacity for joy seems literally limited.

* Is there much point having any sort of friendship with or giving happiness to someone who will not remember it?

* The housekeeper and her son learn so much from the professor, but does he get anything meaningful in return?

I think he benefits. Even if his pleasure is transient, it is still pleasure. Even if he can't consciously recall it later, it surely adds to his general sense of well-being. The fact his relationship with the housekeeper and her son develops to a deep bond implies a degree of memory and benefit.

If we really believed the only reason for being kind to someone was the certainty that they'd remember it, the world would be full of neglected babies and toddlers, who developed into cold and disturbed adults. Fortunately, only a very few people operate that way.

Don't be put off by the numbers

Some of the maths may be a little obscure for some readers, but not fully understanding it shouldn't impair enjoyment of the book. The prof's message is not about right answers, but listening to and feeling numbers, and there are times when the passion borders on religious:
"I needed this eternal truth... I needed the sense that this invisible world was somehow propped up by the visible one... Somehow this line would help me find peace."

Related books

This has some similarities with:
* Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (see my review HERE).
*Iris Murdoch's The Word Child (see my review HERE).

David Mitchell cites it as one of his five favourite Japanese novels: http://www.avclub.com/article/david-m...

Review updated August 2017 after Tsung Wei prompted me to think more about what I'd written.
Profile Image for Nika.
125 reviews130 followers
March 19, 2023
After an accident, a professor, an exceptionally gifted mathematician, has lost the ability to remember things. Since then, his mind has failed to retain any new piece of information or any new face. All his memories end in 1975.
Now his memory lasts only eighty minutes, no more and no less. After eighty minutes he forgets everything that just happened to him or around him.
This obviously affects the life of the main character and forces him to change entirely his way of living. He is to stop teaching and live mostly on the charity of his relatives.

The Professor's sister-in-law hires a young woman to look after the small cottage in which the Professor is now living. She turns out to be the tenth housekeeper in a row. The nine previous housekeepers were dismissed for one reason or another.
The new housekeeper comes every day to help the Professor go through his days. Her son also starts showing up at the Professor's house after school. The woman and the boy come to form a close bond with the aging man.
The Professor uses every opportunity to bring up the subject of numbers, the beauty of numbers, and the mystery of the relationships between them.
"Soon after I began working for the Professor, I realized that he talked about numbers whenever he was unsure of what to say or do. Numbers were also his way of reaching out to the world. They were safe, a source of comfort."

He shares his knowledge and tries to communicate with his two friends despite his memory failing him.

The book, through the Professor's mathematical findings and explanations, conveys the idea of how exciting math can be. Numbers are not just simple symbols. They can be perfect, tricky, amicable, chaotic, and brilliant. The Professor searches for elaborate patterns numbers can hide. Finding a solution to a math problem can be compared to unearthing a shard of crystal from the floor of a dark cave. His enthusiasm and affection for math shine through, and I must admit that they are somehow contagious.

The mutual respect and affection with which the main characters treat each other shine through, as well. The Professor speaks to two friends as if they were real mathematicians. And the housekeeper and her ten-year-old son start, to their own surprise, absorbing his explanations.

I found some passages enlightening. Did you know what the term 'amicable numbers' meant? For example, 220 and 284 are 'amicable numbers.' Here is how the Professor explains this.

220 : 1 + 2 + 4 + 5 + 10 + 11 + 20 + 22 + 44 + 55 + 110 = 284

220 = 142 + 71 + 4 + 2 + 1 : 284

"That's right! The sum of the factors of 220 is 284, and the sum of the factors of 284 is 220. They're called 'amicable numbers,' and they're extremely rare. Fermat and Descartes were only able to find one pair each. They're linked to each other by some divine scheme, and how incredible that your birthday and this number on my watch should be just such a pair."

The novel is relatively short but slow-paced. I was taking my time with it.
One thing that could have prevented me from appreciating this story was baseball and the multiple references to that game. But it did not, and I enjoyed this read. My rating is ~ 3.7 stars.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,146 reviews501 followers
April 12, 2017
With only 192 pages, it is a breeze. A delightful pause. A little gem of fantasmagoric proportions. An ode to maths. And a Dennis The Menace- moment in nostalgia.

The Dennis The Menace-moment.

Reading this book, about a housekeeper and her little son, and a brilliant mentally-disabled professor after a severe head injury, brought the joy of numbers back. Every eighty minutes his short term memory erased itself, but he still had his memories of elegant equations from the past. The housekeeper and her son had to introduce themselves each day all over again. The professor called her son 'Root', because, he said, the flat top of the boy's head reminded him of the square root sign. Very soon the professor managed to instill a love of maths in the little boy (rekindle it in me as well!), and brought the magic of this ancient old knowledge alive.

The professor believed that the very origins of the universe could be explained in the exact language of numbers. It was like copying truths from God's notebook.

A bond of friendship formed when they managed to get the old radio working again and baseball broadcasts could reverberate through the small garden cottage. He became a surrogate father to the boy child, while layers of silence were slowly lifted. It did not matter if they got the answers wrong to his math problems. He preferred their wild, desperate guesses to silence.

Curious equations created an unlikely family where one was desperately needed.

Written as a fictional memoir. It feels so real, so true. So very very good.

Profile Image for PorshaJo.
442 reviews656 followers
January 15, 2018
A wonderful, heart-warming story about unlikely friendships....and math...and baseball! I decided to grab this one for my Japanese reading challenge for 2018 and it was the perfect story to begin reading. It's heavy into math, which I must say, I'm a bit rusty on. I was at one time fascinated by numbers, going to the highest level of math courses in college, and working for my college math professor. But then...I just lost interest in numbers (as along came computers! Nerd!)

The story is of the friendship of the housekeeper and the professor. The professor had an accident some number of years ago and his memory only lasts 80 minutes. He's quite the sight for the housekeeper, wearing a suit with post it notes pinned all over his suit to remind of things he will soon forget. He has his memory prior to the accident, but after that, it only lasts 80 minutes. But, he is a math genius and relates everything to math. When he first meets his new housekeeper, he asks her shoe size and phone number and recounting the tale of those specific numbers. And so begins their daily dance. But over time, they have an impact on one another. The housekeepers son comes around and the professor helps to teach him, the housekeeper becomes enamored by numbers, and they all share their fondness of baseball. A unlikely friendship that lasts a lifetime for the three of them.

I listened to this one via audio and it was wonderful. Cassandra Campbell is an awesome narrator and I have listened to her numerous times, and loved each narration. I also grabbed the print, which was available at my library, so I could reference when numbers and equations were discussed. I'm so happy that I picked this one up. A short, special read for anyone who is a fan of math, a fan of baseball, or who wants a really good feel, good story.
Profile Image for Agnieszka.
258 reviews919 followers
October 2, 2019

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a charming and enjoyable novella about eponymous Professor of mathematics who due to accident years earlier suffers from peculiar form of amnesia and while he remembers everything from the past his current memory lasts only eighty minutes, and as a reminder of this fact he has fitting note pinned to his suit. In fact Professor has plenty notes on him that rustle when he walks. It also is a story about his housekeeper, young single mother and her son named by Professor, in honor of root sign since his head is flat, Root. And finally the story revolves about numbers, whole range of numbers. Prime, natural, amicable, perfect, triangular and so on.

Well, being myself mathematical dimwit I didn’t think reading about equations, proofs and Fermat Last Theorem could be so engaging. For Professor numbers are comforting and solving some mathematical puzzle leaves him peaceful and at ease. And these passages devoted to the beauty of mathematics I found especially captivating. In mathematics is order and logic that I admire and mystery and beauty that regretfully I not always can comprehend.

You could think that being limited to the world of numbers only the Professor is excluded from the outside world. Yes, in some way he is. He lives in unkempt cottage, his clothes remember better times and he barely leaves his refuge. But he almost immediately creates a bond with his housekeeper’s ten years old son. And reading about their relationship, the way he cares about the boy is such heart-warming even if every time Professor has to start his day looking at his clothes to find a proper note reminding him who the boy and his mother are.

Yōko Ogawa wrote this story with elegance and understanding, fortunately avoiding saccharine undertone that can be found in some novels concerning disabilities issue. We can see Professor in his best and worst moments. We see old man in shabby clothes who pays no attention to his dowdiness and hygienic matters. We see him thinking and pointing at the sky to indicate the evening star that is about to show. We perfectly understand his fear of crowded places and can comprehend the fact when he reduces baseball game to numbers and statistics or writes a formula to end an arguing. Because numbers always would give him sense of order and harmony with himself and the world.

Profile Image for Anne .
437 reviews346 followers
September 13, 2020
A poignant and touching story about a very special housekeeper with qualities of empathy, gentleness and kindness without which this would be a very different story. This housekeeper cares for a math professor who has a brain injury from an accident and, as a result, only has 80 minutes of short term memory. Ten housekeepers prior to our angelic one have failed with him. But the housekeeper in the story shares and gives all that she has to comfort and care for the professor, including her son. All three gain from the relationship as they share math problems, baseball, and time together. A lovely, well-written story.
Profile Image for رغد فريحات.
116 reviews468 followers
January 24, 2021

كيف ستكون حياتك اذا ماتعرضت يومًا لحادث وتوقفت ذاكرتك عن تخزين كل شيء بعد هذا الحادث وتبقت فقط ذكرياتك السابقة ؟

مدبرة المنزل , التي لديها طفل غير شرعي لتعتني به . يقودها القدر لتعمل عند بروفيسور أو أستاذ متخصص في علم الرياضيات فشلت ذاكرته بتخزين كل مايمر به في حياته بعد تعرضه لحادث عام 1975 ادى لتهشم جزء من جمجمته
بعد مرور 30 عام على هذه الحادثة تستدعي زوجة أخاه المتوفي من إحدى وكالات التنظيف مدبرة منزل لتهتم بأموره وتساعده لتكون هذه المدبرة التاسعة التي تجلبها بعد انسحاب المدبرات السابقات

تنشأ علاقة عميقة ورياضياتية دافئة بين مدبرة المنزل والأستاذ , على الرغم من أن مدبرة المنزل لم تكن تحب الرياضيات , إلا أن هوس الأستاذ بهذا العلم العميق هو ماعزز من علاقتهما الغريبة ليجعلها تهتم بهذا المجال هي وولدها

في كل صباح يسأل الأستاذ المدبرة .. اهلا , من انتِ

في كل صباح يتعرف عليها من جديد بدون ان تمل او تسأم مدبرة المنزل يافعة السن

في كل صباح يراجع الأستاذ الملصقات التي يعلقها بمعطفه ليعلم انه التقى بهذه المدبرة ��ن قبل ولكن ذاكرته الخائنة تنسيه كل ماحدث قبل

كل يوم تنشأ نفس العلاقة اللطيفة الرياضياتة هذه بينهما ليجعلها تكتشف كل يوم لغز جديد في عالم الأرقام
كان عادة مايعطي الأستاذ مسألة رياضية او لغز لتحله هي وأبنها لتذكره باليوم التالي بالواجب الذي اعطاهما ليصحح لهما .. هنا يكون الأستاذ سعيد على الرغم من عدم تذكره


رواية لطيفة هادئة مليئة بالأحاسيس والمشاعر . هذا النوع من العلاقات الجميلة يجعل المرء يشعر بالدفء

الأدب الياباني من أرقى أنواع الأدب حرفيًا

ربما لم تعد ذاكرته تخزن المزيد من الأحداث , لكن المهم انها احتفظت بشغفه .. إحتفظت بعلمه بهذا المجال

Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book462 followers
September 25, 2020
Math has never liked me, and if you make me sit through an entire baseball game, I cry. So how is it that I am about to tell you that a book that is largely concerned with math and baseball has captured my heart? Yoko Ogawa has convinced me, without really trying, that math is beautiful, in a way my college algebra teacher was unable to.

Eternal truths are ultimately invisible, and you won’t find them in material things or natural phenomena, or even in human emotions. Mathematics, however, can illuminate them, can give them expression--in fact, nothing can prevent it from doing so.

I’m guessing those who actually understand math and comprehend what the numbers say, are closer to understanding eternity than the rest of us. Perhaps they are the ones who can fathom that the universe has no borders, no end; it's a concept I grasp intellectually but still feel overwhelmed by.

But, I digress, because this not a book about math, it is a book about people; about how they can come to care about one another despite the most challenging of situations. It is a book about compassion, kindness, and love. And, while you might think those elements are flowing in one direction alone, they can come to flow in two directions so easily, and kindness and love can help the givers as well as the receivers.

My sincere thanks to my GR friends, Lynn and Anne. It was as lovely as you promised.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,037 followers
August 21, 2017
Everyone and their mother read this last year for Women in Translation month (August 2016), and I remember finding my own copy at the annual literacy book sale. I set it aside for WIT month this year and was happy to pull it back out.

The housekeeper is a single parent, trying to make enough to live on, and the professor is a mathematician with a failing memory. The story is about connection and care but also MATH and anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for math. The professor can't remember past 80 minutes and tries to attach little slips of paper with the important details to his robe. But he can still think in math, so that is how he connects to the people around him.

He refers to the housekeeper's son as Root because of the shape of his hair, the flat top of the square root symbol.

I'm not much for charming books but I was still charmed by this. I guess I needed a book that showed kindness matters. And math.
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews3,975 followers
August 6, 2014
A highly polished, smooth, shining surface of a novel that was exquisitely crafted from start to finish. The voice was so understated and matter-of-fact that I would have had little trouble believing that this was an actual account of a real housekeeper remembering her experiences. There were very few authorial flourishes and all of them were appropriately put into the mouth of the strange, afflicted Professor, a math genius whose short-term memory only lasts 80 minutes.

A premise like that can be in danger of becoming a gimmick, a crutch for the plot to rely on to provide tension, as reliable as a countdown clock in an apocalyptic film. However, that did not happen here. If anything, sometimes Ogawa blurred time together- she only used the premise when needed. The time-bomb ticking mattered less than Ogawa's use of it to demonstrate the selfless care and devotion of a housekeeper and her son to this debilitated, nervous old man. The other quirk of the Professor's memory is that he can remember everything that happened to him before 1975. This means it will always be that year in his mind. This was interesting as well because it allowed Ogawa to explore, with a very light touch, what "time" is made up of- her answer seems to be a combination of objects, people, and the sort of pop culture that connects you with a wider world, the famous figures that help you see time passing in your own life.

The housekeeper's tale is self-effacing and modest, with only the barest of facts given to let the reader know why her relationship with the Professor is possible, and why it means so much to her. The rare moments where she breaks down and tells a story about her emotions mean that much more because of it. Her life is one of work, hardship, frequent disrespect and degradation, and she has no opportunity to really escape it. Thus her interactions with the Professor, who only remembers the last 80 minutes, and will therefore explain things again and again and still feel just as excited about doing so, allow her a share in beauty and kindness and higher understanding that has never been within the possibilities of her experience. The 80 minutes is about exploring and re-exploring, having the freedom to try again and be secure that there will be no judgement of your failures. What would that be like? What sort of gift would it be for a woman whose whole life has been judgment and avoiding judgment and getting by with her head down?

Her joy is quiet and contained and hidden, subject to the permission of authority figures for its existence, not to be depended on, as likely to quickly disappear as not. But for some little time, this woman is able to look into "God's notebook," with a patient teacher and precious privacy:

"In my imagination, I saw the creator of the universe sitting in some distant corner of the sky, weaving a pattern of delicate lace so fine that even the faintest light would shine through it. The lace stretches out infinitely in every direction, billowing gently in the cosmic breeze. You want desperately to touch it, hold it up to the light, rub it against your cheek. And all we ask is to be able to re-create the pattern, weave it again with numbers, somehow, in our own language; to make even the tiniest fragment on our own, to bring it back to earth."

This ethereal daydream represents the height of the emotion that this book reaches. It is a whispering sort of book, a calm and nostalgic Sunday with nowhere to be sort of book. It is the sort of book I actually think would benefit from being read aloud by a woman with a wise old voice and a solid, but sometimes somewhat fragile demeanor.

The major fault I found with this book was that... there were no faults. The author seemed perfectly separated from her subject, at her observational best, understanding, but uninvolved. I liked that, in a sense, after reading so many books where authors are clearly working out their own issues on the page. I liked that this seemed like a genuine attempt to understand something outside of the Self. I also liked that this never bowed to our modern, confessional needs to know everything- she always left the mystery, always respected the limits of what her tale would reasonably know or respectfully want to know, and left it to us to guess the rest or to be discreet enough to leave the characters' secrets alone.

However, her skill was such that the story was told so smoothly. So smoothly, too smoothly for my taste. You could almost miss the bumps in the road- the language almost never changed, the tone didn't alter, nor, I think most importantly, did your sense of being well taken care of by the author. I felt so safe in Ogawa's hands that I never feared for the characters, nor was able to consequently work up a great passion about any of them in any way. I knew that each of them would be given a fitting, lovely conclusion that wrapped up the tale with dignity, ending it not with a bang, but a whisper. It made me respect Ogawa's skill so much. It made me pay attention, and I understood that certain scenes had more power because of this almost never changing tone, and her plain, even language, even in moments of stress or crisis for the characters.

I confess that I was looking for ragged edges by the end- looking to find fault with her for not keeping to her 80 minutes, looking for some outbursts or ill-chosen words. She receded so much from me that I wanted some of the author back- and she refused to appear.

I will say that it has been a long time since I've wished for that. I've not often had the need.

Ultimately, I think that when I see this book on my shelves I will remember a sense of quiet, smile a little bit remembering the unique passion for mathematics, and I will think of the word "polished", but that will be all. It shone softly, not a hair out of place, and I can already feel it fading from my mind. That's why I can't rate it higher, even though, as I've stated, I can't find a single flaw with the writing.

Oh well book. As a favorite character of mine almost said- perhaps it is your perfections that make us imperfect for one another.
Profile Image for Laysee.
491 reviews225 followers
September 9, 2017
Imagine going to work and having to introduce yourself afresh to your employer every day. Will it drive you crazy if the first question you had to answer at the door each day is “What’s your shoe size?” ?

A housekeeper, a single mother with a 10-year-old son, finds herself at the cottage of a 64-year-old Math professor who has had nine housekeepers before her. She expects a difficult client, but what she least expects is an affection that develops into a strong friendship.

The Professor suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident 17 years ago in 1975 that left his memory in shreds. He is unable to remember anything new and his memory lasts precisely 80 minutes. Mercifully, he lives in the world of numbers and that remains intact. I cannot fathom what it must be like to wake up each day and have to start all over again to make sense of the environment. Ogawa tells us that "…he talked about numbers whenever he was unsure of what to say or do. Numbers were also his way of reaching out to the world. They were safe, a source of comfort." He does not remember the housekeeper from one day to the next. However, they can always discuss one thing without worry – Mathematics.

What I found loveliest is the gradual and steady flowering of the relationship between the Professor, the housekeeper, and her son, Root (a name fondly given by the Professor who delights in mussing the hair on the boy’s flat head). The Professor tells Root, "The square root sign is a generous symbol, it gives shelter to all the numbers." How wonderful!

The housekeeper goes beyond the call of duty to make the Professor’s daily living as stable as possible. She enlarges his world beyond the office where he does his "thinking". The Professor imparts to the housekeeper, Root, and me (the reluctant Math student) the Mathematical secrets hidden in “god’s notebook”. I learned about amicable numbers, perfect numbers, and Euler’s formula. To the Professor, "..explaining why a formula is beautiful is like trying to explain why stars are beautiful." He teaches this beauty with incredible patience, enthusiasm, and humility. I found delight in this Math palindrome – “I prefer pi”. I would have loved a Math teacher/professor like him. But what moved me most is the Professor’s genuine love for Root that is eloquently expressed despite his frailty and vulnerability.

Read The Housekeeper and the Professor. How immeasurably priceless it is that a person may lose his brain and memory and yet keep his heart and compassion.
Profile Image for Joanna Chu (The ChuseyReader).
141 reviews186 followers
October 16, 2021
What I enjoyed:

I really liked the premise and the characters, especially the Housekeeper and Root, who were very selfless and kind hearted people. I loved how they all learned and grew from each other and the ending was touching and satisfying.

What I wanted more of:

- I was hoping to really connect and for their friendship to hit me right in the feels. I may have gotten that feeling a tad in the end but that's about it. I felt mostly detached, I was being told the story rather than experiencing those moments.

- I was expecting that the simple everyday interactions and experiences would be impactful and sweet. For their relationship to be heartwarming and wholesome. But I didn’t get any of those feelings and I was a little bored.

Overall it was ok but since I didn’t feel much for the majority of the novel I was left wanting more.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,497 followers
November 17, 2018
This tale charms us with the friendship that develops between a young housekeeper and her 12-year old son with an elderly recluse and former mathematics professor. Though he can’t retain new memories beyond 80 minutes, his 50-plus years of skills developed as a mathematician prior to the accident and brain damage that disabled him are still accessible to him. These skills he creatively puts to use each day trying to figure out and live in whatever social world of people falls his way as if anew. The “Housekeeper” (the only name we have for our narrator) learns how to promote continuity with the self-absorbed and fragile octogenarian by pinning to his shirt to see each morning a drawing of herself and a square-root symbol for her son (who becomes “Root” because of his flat head). It felt brilliant how Ogawa’s three characters formed a fruitful virtual family despite all the challenges of the old man’s memory problems.

The Professor has outlived any friends and family he might have had, and his one limited family member is a daughter-in-law who provides his apartment and hires housekeepers told to handle all problems themselves. Thus, the Housekeeper understands how she is his only human connection, and her kind nature leads her open whatever doors to his heart can be opened. His main occupation during the day is solving math puzzles posed by certain journals, a task that can build each day on his own written proofs and series of equations from the day before. His use of math as a timeless way to query and grasp the world becomes quite a revelation to her. She even gets inspired enough to work on math puzzles herself during pauses in her day, driven by the sense of wonderful truths about reality are there to be discovered.

The reader needs no facility with math to appreciate the hold of mathematical thinking on the characters (i.e. as was true of “The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime” and “The Beautiful Mind”). For example, The Professor likes to ask the Housekeeper what her birthday is or some other quantity question and then identify amazing mathematical properties of the number, such as it being a “Perfect Number” (one equal to the sum of its factors) or a special kind of Prime number (one that has no factors but one and itself). The Professor takes special pleasure in treating her son to tales of the wonders of numbers, such as the weird features of Imaginary numbers (one based on the square root of a negative number). The Housekeeper breaks the rules of her agency by bringing Root to her job each day after his school, as the pleasures of her son’s bond with the Professor clearly enhances the quality of both their lives. The fatherless boy gets beneficent wisdom from an adult stand-in and learns the empathetic ability to protect him from the pain of learning out of synch his memories are with the present world. For example, they share the common pleasures of a favorite baseball team’s successes, but Root makes up a story for why the Professor’s hero of the 50s is not in the games they share.

A read of this book provides some of the same rewards of cross-generational friendships and collisions of the serious and the comic that are common in the work of Fred Backman. On top of the fuzzy warmth of experiencing the breaking down of barriers between people, this novel adds an artful layer of mathematics played out as a language that can mediate the kind of human connections and framework for reality that all of us need to fully live in this lonely life.

As a sample of the frequent zest of math applied to life, here the Housekeeper is tending the Professor when he is sick and she is realizing how fragile he is:
I remembered something the Professor told me, something a mathematician with a difficult name once said: “Math has proven the existence of God, because it is absolute and without contradiction; but the devil must exist as well, because we cannot prove it.” The Professor’s body had been consumed by the devil of mathematics.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,184 reviews1,080 followers
November 4, 2016
3.5 Star

The Housekeeper + The Professor by Yoko Ogawa is a heart-warming story about a housekeeper, a professor and the housekeeper’s ten year old son but also and most importantly a story about what it means to live in the present, and about friendships, family and respect and a little Math thrown in for good measure.

"He is a brilliant maths professor who lives with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. She is a sensitive and astute young housekeeper who is entrusted to take care of him"

The premise for this novel is very simple a young women is assigned to a job caring for an elderly, brain damaged professor of mathematics. He has only eighty minutes of short-term memory, so he doesn't remember her from one day to the next, but his memory pre his accident of 1975 remains intact. He continues to function and live his life from day to day with the help of his housekeeper, his notes and most importantly his love of numbers. The story is narrated by the housekeeper.

I did enjoy this story and came to really like the unique characters and quirky story of this book. While it is a quick read it has a slow release plot and a story that your will read with care and perhaps re-read some chapters twice.

However I was disappointed a little in the sense of time and location of the novel. The novel is set in Japan but for me I never got the sense of location and this was a disappointment in the story. I really need the scene to be set and the little details and place descriptions are as important to me as the plot.

I think this would make a good book club read as there is so much to discuss about this story.
I enjoyed the story and especially the characters.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books767 followers
February 5, 2015

After our first full day visiting Japan in 2011, I saw a baseball game on TV (had to be a replay because it was December): the Yakult Swallows versus the Hanshin Tigers. I recognized Matt Murton of the Tigers who'd briefly played for the Chicago Cubs and the name of the 40-year-old Miyamoto. Two evenings later, in Nara, we got caught up in a small parade on the main street and as it ended, a young man straddling a bicycle caught up with us to ask if we were Americans and, next, if we knew American baseball. When I asked if he knew American baseball, his response was "of course". (I soon understood his "of course" simply meant "yes".) His favorite Japanese team was the Hanshin Tigers, so I mentioned Murton, and he gave some other names of Americans playing in Japan. I mentioned Fukudome* (who was then playing for the Cubs) and he countered with Sammy Sosa! The young man walked with us to the hotel where we said good-bye, and he seemed reluctant to part.

I bring this up not only because in this book the Hanshin Tigers are the favorite team of the professor and the son of the housekeeper; but because baseball (along with mathematics) is the way the housekeeper and her son communicate with the professor. I don't speak Japanese and the young man's English was limited, yet we communicated -- and quite satisfactorily -- through the names of baseball players.

This book is very different from the other works of Ogawa that have been translated into English. Anyone reading this first and then the others might be in for a shock. And while I prefer her Revenge and The Diving Pool, her narratorial choice here (as usual) is intriguing. The housekeeper tells us nothing of how hard and lonely her own life must be, as if to point out how little she knows of the professor's feelings. She never questions the giving of friendship to a man who will have no memory of it eighty minutes later. The professor may live in a sort of bubble, but surely the housekeeper doesn't, though that is what she presents to us. Because of these choices, on the surface the story might seem mostly a sweet one (and it is, though it's never saccharine) but I can't help sense the sadness that lurks beneath.

* I googled Fukudome to see where he is playing now, and had to smile ... the Hanshin Tigers.
Profile Image for Pedro .
184 reviews388 followers
January 17, 2020
Had I known at the time that “mistakes were often as revealing as the right answer” and I probably wouldn’t have been such a lousy maths student. Well, to be fair I was beyond lousy. I was literally a numerical disaster waiting to happen. I can still remember the teacher’s face after I had given an answer to a problem as if it happened yesterday. I can still feel my face burning the way it did every time I was called to the blackboard to solve an equation.

Till this day I honestly don’t know if I was really that bad or if my disastrous results were due to pure boredom or even laziness. Maybe both. But the truth is that I hated it. Everything; numbers, equations, formulas... Bahh!!!

And then, after all these years I’ve read this original and gentle little novel and I wish had payed more attention to the beauty behind numbers.
I don’t know how Ogawa does this, but she can literally show me beauty and harmony everywhere and in everything. Even numbers.
And her prose, oh my goodness, what a joy to read; Gourmet treats for the brain, literally.

On the surface there’s not a lot happening in this little gem. It‘s a really simple story about friendship told in a very tender way. The magic is there behind numbers and letters, as it is behind everything else, but only for the ones who really want to see it.

I loved it, and the four star rating is only a reflection of my enjoyment when compared to Ogawa’s The Memory Police.

What a beauty of a novel!!!

“(...) there was no shame in admitting you didn’t have the answer, it was a necessary step toward the truth.”
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