Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (a review)

The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel
4 out of 5: The Housekeeper and the Professor is a sensitive portrait of coincidentally overlapping lives. The nameless housekeeper is hired to work for a mathematics professor who was injured in a car accident in 1975, leaving him with only 80-minutes of short-term memory—an internal tape that constantly overwrites itself. Beyond his 80-minute memory, the professor’s only memories are those that existed prior to 1975. The professor, the housekeeper, and her ten-year-old son form a makeshift family, the professor becoming the father-figure that the son lacks. In the professor’s 80-minute world, mathematics is his anchor, adding beauty, elegance, and a kind of order to his muddled existence:

The mathematical order is beautiful precisely because it has no effect on the real world. Life isn’t going to be easier, nor is anyone going to make a fortune, just because they know something about prime numbers. … The only goal is to discover the truth.
Stephen Snyder’s translation is elegant and unobtrusive. The Housekeeper and the Professor, in its own quiet and delicate way, reveals the unexpected depths hidden below the surface of damaged people and the fragility of memory.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a winner. I'm adding it to my wish list.

Zibilee said...

I read this a few months ago and thought it was excellent. The relationship between the old man and the young boy was particular touching. Great review.

Lisa said...

This was one of my favorite books of the year! I would never have thought that a book with mathematics so much at the forefront could also be such a beautiful book.


Anonymous said...

I was a bit disappointed by the book, as it started so well, and kind of petered out for me. The prose's simplicity is striking, however, and I really appreciated it.