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Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (4/5). Proof that math is literary.

22 May

One of the lovely ladies of my book club recommended this book a while back. When we were looking for books to put on our schedule, I suggested we all give it a try. This book is so cute and little and the story itself followed suit. I’m so glad we all got to read it.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper is a simple woman looking for a simple job keeping house. It’s the only thing she knows and she does it well. When she gets assigned to the professor’s household, there are a few side notes to consider. The man has been in a bad accident and his memory only lasts 80 minutes. Before the accident, the professor was a celebrated and talented math professor. His ability to do complex formulas and his lover for numbers have never left him and he still revels in the joy of prime numbers. When he finds out the Housekeeper has a young son, he insists that the boy come to his home after school instead of heading home to an empty apartment. Root and the Professor form a fast friendship that has to be re-established every day as the Professor forgets about his surrogate family. The Housekeeper and her son (nicknamed Root) overreach the duties of her assignment frequently in sacrifice for their new friend, the Professor

I adored this book. It made me happy and sad and it made me think. There characters were delightfully simple, not even having real names. It was like tapas; a quick little bite that made you want more, but there’s only one on the plate so you savor it.

Yoko Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa

The characters were very well-developed. I felt like the Housekeeper and Root were god representations of any single mother and son I’ve met. She was strong and determined and he was loving and attracted to a strong male figure. The Professor was a bit unbelievable, but that’s the best part about fiction; you can believe the unbelievable. I think his personality was consistent and likable. I felt so sorry for him throughout the book.

It’s hard to pick a favorite character. There were really only three major characters and all of them were so great. I think the Professor would have to be my favorite. He was quirky and hard to figure out at first and I felt like the Housekeeper as we delicately stepped around him, trying not to make waves and avoid getting sucked under by the current. His character became clear after a time because his personality didn’t change. Things that upset him at the beginning still upset him at the end. Because of his limited memory, he was a static character. The only change he made was in his memory capabilities. I loved that despite his memory loss, his brain was still more than capable of figuring out the most advanced math problems. I liked that he was still a strong character despite his disability.

I related most to the Housekeeper. I’m a person who likes to see my work all the way through, even if it’s beyond the call of duty. The lengths she went to with her position were very understandable to me. I admired her dedication to her clients and how thorough she was with all aspects of her life. I try to show extreme dedication to anything I decide to do and I could sympathize with her.

I loved the part of the book when they went to a baseball game. I enjoyed reading about the balance the Housekeeper and Root had to strike between telling the Professor the truth about the team and lies to cover up the years he had missed. I loved how protective the Professor was of Root and how much he cared about him. I know it was the turning point of the story, when the Housekeeper realized that he couldn’t live on his own any more, but it was still a happy scene in my mind.

I didn’t understand the brief period when the Housekeeper was fired from the Professor’s house. I think the sister-in-law overreacted and I thought it was unfair to the Professor to take away a Housekeeper that had been so good to him after the many previous housekeepers had obviously failed to assimilate to his quirks. It seemed very rash to me to fire someone for working past their end time, something that screams of dedication. I thought this part broke up the novel too much.

The message I take away from this book is that love is blind and maybe even forgetful. It didn’t matter to the Housekeeper and Root that the Professor didn’t remember them day-to-day or that to him they might not even be friends. They believed in their friendship with him and that made it strong. Even the sister-in-law could see that. Years later, they still loved the man and went to see him knowing that he would have not even the faintest idea who they were. I love the message of love and dedication that Ogawa gave us.

Writer’s Takeaway: I loved that this story was short and impactful. There are many times that I read a book and think, ‘This could have been 100 pages shorter.’ Not with this book. It was the perfect length and I loved how every moment meant something. I think we could all use a little less fluff.

Four out of five stars for a great impact and heart-warming story.

This book fulfills Foreign Country: Japan for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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