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Apr 4, 2009

REVIEW: "The Housekeeper and The Professor" by Yoko Ogawa

REVIEW: "The Housekeeper and The Professor" by Yoko Ogawa
Picador Published: February 2009
ISBN-10: 0-312-42780-8 192 pages

"He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem--ever 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 every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities--like the Housekeeper’s shoe size--and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.
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."

The book reads as if the Housekeeper is retelling the story of how she (with her son) came to work in the Professor's little home and the way the three interacted. The Professor's mind is stuck in 1975, with only a plethora of numbers to keep him occupied, and the housekeeper and her son try not to disturb the professor with the reality of the present day, 1992. The trio connect through mathematics and baseball, and the housekeeper herself soon finds comfort in numbers as the book relays the formulas and equations with a poetic thrust that even those who dislike mathematics gain a respect for a number's own mystery.

I had no idea how much of an impact this simple story of being a housekeeper could make. I adored this book, and as I finished this I immediately thought, "5 stars! New favorite!" This is a quick read about the relationships and bonds that are formed even when one loses his memory after eighty minutes. Surprisingly I did not want to put it down, and barely did I have to. Full of sweet nuances of whimsy, hope and friendship the story is so poignant I cannot do justice to the book with my words alone. This is a keeper.

Read an excerpt here at Macmillan.
(which is Copyright © 2003 by Yoko Ogawa; English translation copyright 2009 by Stephen Snyder. All rights reserved.)

Again, I give this book 5 stars, I enjoyed it so much.