Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Housekeeper and the Professor

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Housekeeper and the Professor

A Novel

by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa X
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Paperback:
    Feb 2009, 192 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Diane La Rue

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

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 translated into French, German, and other languages, but The Housekeeper and the Professor is her first full-length novel to be translated into English. The translator, Stephen Snyder, has also translated Ogawa's collection of three novellas, entitled The Diving Pool, published by Picador in 2008, and a short story, The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain, for The New Yorker (September, 2004).

Hakase no aishi ta sushiki was made into a successful Japanese film in 2006, garnering many awards, including Best Feature at the 2007 Syracuse International Film Festival. While the novel is narrated by the Housekeeper, the film is told from the point of view of the adult math professor Root, as he recounts the story of his childhood to his students.


Paul Erdos (1913-1996)

A biography of the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos (The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, by Paul Hoffman) is cited as a source in the bibliography of Hakase no aishi ta sushiki, and it's easy to see how Ogawa's Professor might have been inspired by Erdos's notoriously eccentric personality.

Erdos was singularly focused, lived on coffee and often amphetamines, and did little else besides think about math, yet he was also known for a quirky sense of humor and joie de vivre. Although he won cash prizes for his work, he frequently gave the money away to other mathematicians. Paul Hoffman describes Erdos as a "mathematical monk", whose belongings could fit in two suitcases. He never married, and had no children.

Ogawa gave many of these ascetic characteristics to the Professor. He also worked on difficult math problems, entering many contests and winning large sums of money, leaving prize checks uncashed and crumpled up in a box in the closet. Erdos was called "uncouth and unconventional" during his fellowship at Princeton, and was described by friends as "a nervous and agitated person," all descriptions befitting Ogawa's Professor.

Erdos was known more for solving problems than developing theories, and he published nearly 1500 papers during his lifetime, working with over 500 collaborators. This unparalleled collaboration gave rise to the Erdos Number, a kind of degrees-of-separation rating well-known among mathematicians. As in the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the lower a person's Erdos number, the closer he or she is to Erdos.

Article by Diane La Rue

This article is from the February 5, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Last Ballad
    The Last Ballad
    by Wiley Cash
    Ella May WigginsA hundred years ago or so, farming land west of Charlotte, North Carolina was given over to giant ...
  • Book Jacket: Future Home of the Living God
    Future Home of the Living God
    by Louise Erdrich
    Louise Erdrich began Future Home of the Living God in 2002, set it aside, and picked it up again in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Mrs. Parrish
    The Last Mrs. Parrish
    by Liv Constantine
    Amber has lived in poverty all her life, and she has had enough. Of course, wishing to have money ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

At once a love story, a history lesson and a beautifully written tale of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Wonder Valley
    by Ivy Pochoda

    A visionary and masterful portrait of contemporary L.A. from the author of Visitation Street.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E Dog H I D

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.