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Joy D | 3417 comments The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa - 4 stars

“The Professor never really seemed to care whether we figured out the right answer to a problem. He preferred our wild, desperate guesses to silence, and he was even more delighted when those guesses led to new problems that took us beyond the original one. 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. This gave us confidence even when our best efforts came to nothing.” – Yōko Ogawa, The Housekeeper and the Professor

PBT Comments: I read this for Women in Translation month. It was translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder. As a former math major, I loved the idea that mathematics can be a universal language for someone memory-impaired. I really enjoyed contrasting American baseball with Japanese baseball. For example, they don't serve juice and tea as a norm at American baseball parks, nor do they sing or wave flags often. I am not a mental health professional, but I daresay the 80 minute memory limit was a construct used by the author and is unlikely to occur exactly this way in real life.

Set in Japan in 1992, a single mother works as a housekeeper for a retired professor of mathematics who cannot store memories beyond eighty minutes, though his long-term memory (prior to 1975) is intact. The professor attaches notes to his clothing to compensate for his condition. Fortunately, he learned his academic specialty, number theory, prior to the accident that impaired his short-term memory, so he communicates with others by asking math-related questions and teaching them how to analyze numbers. He is fascinated with the way numbers are interrelated, and mathematics becomes a universal language with which to communicate with others. He was a fan of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team and their star pitcher Yutaka Enatsu, though he believes the older players, now retired, are still members of the team. This love of baseball is shared with the housekeeper’s ten-year-old son, nicknamed Root. The professor, the housekeeper, and Root bond over math and baseball, becoming a quasi-family unit.

This is a story of human compassion, reaching out to others through communication barriers, and easing loneliness. While baseball and mathematics are central elements of the narrative, it is not necessary to be well-versed in either to enjoy the story. It will be necessary to suspend disbelief on a short-term memory loss lasting exactly eighty minutes, as this construct is a plot device intended to provide structure and lessen repetition. The style is understated and elegantly spare. It is a slow-paced novella, with a few meaningful events outside the professor’s routine, and will appeal to those who enjoy character-driven stories or those involving the formation of alternative families. It is not often that Euler’s formula plays a key role in understanding the connections among characters, but this book pulls it off beautifully.

Link to My GR Review

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5219 comments Great review! I read this years ago and I found it very moving. I don't remember much about the plot, but I remember how it made me feel. I'd like to read it again, because it felt great.

Joy D | 3417 comments NancyJ wrote: "Great review! I read this years ago and I found it very moving."
Thanks, Nancy, and I agree!

annapi | 4965 comments I loved this one too, it was a beautiful book!

message 5: by Nikki (new) - added it

Nikki | 661 comments Great review, & the book sounds really intriguing.

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 5793 comments I loved this book.

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