Summary and book reviews of The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor

A Novel

By Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor
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  • Paperback: Feb 2009,
    192 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Diane La Rue

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About this Book

Book Summary

One of BookBrowse's Top 4 Favorite Books of 2009.

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.

Excerpt
The Housekeeper and the Professor

Of all the countless things my son and I learned from the Professor, the meaning of the square root was among the most important. No doubt he would have been bothered by my use of the word countless - too sloppy, for he believed that the very origins of the universe could be explained in the exact language of numbers - but I don’t know how else to put it. He taught us about enormous prime numbers with more than a hundred thousand places, and the largest number of all, which was used in mathematical proofs and was in the Guinness Book of Records, and about the idea of something beyond infinity. As interesting as all this was, it could never match the experience of simply spending time with the Professor. I remember when he taught us about the spell cast by placing numbers under this square root sign. It was a rainy evening in early April. My son’s schoolbag lay abandoned on the rug. The light in the Professor’s study was...

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About This Book
In The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa tells an intimate story about family, the nature of memory, and the poetry of mathematics. It is also, in a sense, a story about the simple experience of getting to know someone, but with a twist: the person forgets everything in eighty minutes. How do you form a relationship with a person who cannot remember? In this uplifting and often poignant novel, Ogawa seems to ask whether our immediate experiences are more important than our memories, since memories inevitably fade, and the eponymous Professor's condition of limited short-term memory allows the author to explore this question with great creativity. At the same time, Ogawa invites the reader into the ...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2009

Reviews

BookBrowse

Ogawa's fine prose and enchanting characters easily wind their way into your heart as their simple story unfolds to give voice to complex ideas about math, love, family and memory. The Housekeeper and the Professor will make you smile, and leave you pondering its meaning long after you have finished it.   (Reviewed by Diane La Rue).

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Media Reviews
The New Yorker - Stephen Snyder

Here, despite some touching scenes, the relationship never builds to any great revelations.

ShelfAwareness - Nick DiMartino

It's all exquisitely touching and impossible to read dry-eyed, an utterly masterful depiction of friendship, a warm-hearted tribute to the unexpected ways that damaged people can change our lives.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

[A] mysterious, suspenseful, and radiant fable.

Kirkus Reviews

Ogawa's disarming exploration of an eccentric relationship reads like a fable, one that deftly balances whimsy with heartache. Simple story, well told.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ogawa...weaves a poignant tale of beauty, heart and sorrow in her exquisite new novel.

Library Journal - Victor Or

This novel evokes the joy of learning, and, with its somewhat eccentric yet lovable protagonists, is a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews
Hans

The Beauty of Nothingness
The book has high ambitions (explain the role of memory in love, or such) resting on odd plot devices (math professor with memory loss, uneducated housekeeper and 10 year-old son getting to love professor through their fascination with numbers theory...   Read More

Rebecca Cox

My favorite for 2010
I just finished my favorite book this year. Even though this book is short, only 180 pages, the prose is rich and sparse with nothing wasted. It took me longer than usual to read this book. I had to stop and savor what I had read, to digest it, to ...   Read More

Lynn

A wonderful story
I loved this book for its spare and loving language deep with meaning. The 3 characters were so authentic and full of compassion. The story really moved at a great pace -- I never wanted to stop reading and finished it in 2 sittings. The professor...   Read More

Suzanne

A short book full of kindness and love
What a beautiful tale of devotion - love given and returned. The story shows how one who shares an absolute love of a subject with others, in this case the subject is math, in all of its elegance, can spread that enthusiasm and pull others into that...   Read More

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The Story Behind the Book

Hakase no aishi ta sushiki was originally published in Japan in 2003, selling more than 2.5 million copies and garnering the prestigious Yomiuri Prize. The title is more literally translated as The Professor and His Beloved Equation, and is often referred to as such prior to the American publication of The Housekeeper and the Professor. Yoko Ogawa has published more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, many ...

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