Tag Archives: Yoko Ogawa

Book Club Reflection: The Housekeeper and the Professor

10 Jun

I have to apologize for the huge delay in posting this. There has been so much I wanted to write about that this post got delayed longer than it should have. My apologies to those in my book club who were waiting for this summary. I’ll try to be better about it going forward.

I wrote my book review of The Housekeeper and the Professor about two weeks ago and I’ll reiterate here that I thought it was charming and sweet. It was a good book to read between books and the ladies of my group agreed that it was like a breath of fresh air. While this will be a shorter book club reflection, I feel that’s appropriate with the shorter length book.

One thing that was brought up that had never crossed my mind was a relationship between the Professor and his sister-in-law. I’d never put together that there was anything between them but the other members were able to point out a few hints that were dropped alluding to a relationship (she was in the car with him when the crash happened, the dedication on his award-winning proof). We suspect that the sister-in-law acted the way she did toward the Housekeeper because she was jealous of any relationship the two of them might have. The sister-in-law must have cared for the Professor on the weekends and still had some feelings toward him and we think she didn’t like to see him interact with another woman. She still wanted to preserve the memory she had of being with her lover in her youth and didn’t want to be his full-time housekeeper to keep this appearance up. We felt she walked a delicate line of taking care of him herself and keeping him at arm’s length.

Another thing that made us wonder was the financial situation that the sister-in-law and Professor had worked out. It seemed she was protective of his financial state, but she had the money. He never cashed the checks from his math prizes and didn’t seem to worry about the at all. Was she protecting his money? Or was he really a burden to her financially? We couldn’t really decide on an answer to this one.

A question that shocked me was if we thought the Housekeeper and the Professor had a romantic relationship. Most of us assumed it was chaste, but the sister-in-law seemed very jealous of the night the Housekeeper spent at his home. Perhaps the sister-in-law suspected it of being romantic, but we shared none of these suspicions. We gathered from her background that she’d never had a strong male figure in her life and even though she was older, he was still a father figure to her; someone she respected and cared for. The background of Root’s father and the Housekeeper’s mother led us to believe that not many people had been kind to her before and she was grateful that the Professor treated her with kindness.

By the end, the sister-in-law seemed to understand that their relationship was nothing more than friendly as she was much nicer to the Housekeeper when the Professor had to be moved into a home.

The Professor’s relationship with Root was really interesting to many of us. He had a great impact on Root who had never had a father figure before. We suspect Root would never have been a math teacher without the Professor’s influence and guidance. We debated why the Professor was so nice to Root. I suspected that he’d had a child or love-child (maybe with his sister-in-law) who he always wanted to care for but never could. Root acted as a surrogate he could care for instead. The rest of my group disagreed and thought Root reminded the Professor of himself in  his youth.

The questions in the back of the book were really good at making us think. The second question reads, “Imagine you are a writer, developing a character with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. How would you manage the very specific terms of that character- for example, his job, his friendships, how he takes c are of himself? Discuss some of the creative ways in which Yoko Ogawa imagines her memory-impaired Professor, from the notes pinned to his suit to the sadness he feels every morning.” We thought she’s found very practical ways to deal with the Professor’s disability. The sadness he felt every morning was heart wrenching, but we wondered if he remembered it 81 minutes later. Did he have small travesties every day? it seemed that his memory was not completely impaired because he seemed to develop emotional memory of the Housekeeper and Root. The parts of our brains that remember facts and feelings are different so this is a likely scenario. Overall, I loved how she was able to take what should have been a very static character due to his illness and turn him into a much my dynamic character by revealing things about him more slowly and changing his circumstances but not his personality. It was very well crafted.

One of the elements of the story we had to talk about was the math. Was it too much? Some found it tedious and overwhelming but I loved it. None of us are really ‘math people’ but we were still able to understand what happened, which I think is a testament to Ogawa’s writing and ability to explain. The one complaint was from our vision-impaired members who said the math was very difficult to understand on the audiobook. I can see that being really challenging because a lot of the math explanations were understandable because of how the problems looked; either stacked or spaced out in patterns. That would be a lot more challenging with no visual.

We liked that math became important to the Housekeeper. She’d never really thought of herself as a smart woman, but she was able to solve problems by herself and the Professor was proud of her when she did. Sh doesn’t want to re-live what happened to her mother and we think she felt that being able to problem solve was something her mother wouldn’t have been able to do. By using a character with no math background, the book invited the reader to learn math while reading. I think that’s a really great concept.

We all felt that the style of the book was very different from what we’re used to reading. We didn’t know if it was a Japanese style of writing or a result of the subject. The book felt quiet, slow, and gentle. This could have been due to mathematics and the way the Housekeeper treated the Professor, or the writer’s style; none of us are familiar with her other work. I would add honest to a list of adjectives to describe the book because nothing felt like a device to connect the plot or say something.

We felt that the story was so well written it could take place anywhere at any time. It didn’t have to be Japan in 1993; it could have been Mexico in 1856. We felt the message was all about living in the moment.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 4-June-2014

4 Jun

SO MUCH PROGRESS!!! It feels good to participate in MizB’s WWW and be able to brag about it.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m making more steady progress on my NaNo. I’m about 3/4 of the way done with it and I’ve realized there’s a lot of filler I need to cut out. It will be an interesting revision process. I’m still on hold for The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson but I am next on the list. I’ll start on The Maze Runner by James Dashner again this weekend. I bet I’m done with the next section by the time I report back.. On audiobook I’m listening to The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. It was the first book on my long list that the library had in non-CD-but-still-audio form. Go figure. My carpool buddy and I are still working on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I’m not sure how I feel about it still and we go long times without listening to it so I’m not sure how long this will take! My physical book at the moment is an ARC; O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn. I’m still trying to figure out the voice of the narrator and it’s making it hard for me to get into, but I’m excited about something rooted in the 1920s!

Recently finished: Two! I finished two books! The first is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is for my informal work book club and I was the first to read it so I could pass it on. We’ll meet to discuss when the third woman has finished it. I also finished  Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan on audio. This was for one of my book clubs as well and I liked it a lot. The writing was a good mix of scientific fact and memoir. Look for reviews soon.

I’ve posted a review for I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak yesterday. Enjoy!

Reading Next:  It’s going to be A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers for my ‘edgy’ book club. This book sounds really cool so I’m excited to get started on it!

My goal is to finish reading my NaNo in the next week. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 28-May-2014

28 May

So there’s progress to report for MizB’s WWW but no finished books. I guess you win some and you lose some, eh?

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’ve made slow progress on my NaNo novel. I try to read it when I’m not really tired and can devote my whole brain to critiquing it, so I guess I’m saying I haven’t been reading it a lot. Still working on it. My other physical book is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is my work-book club book and I’ve got to read it first so I can pass it on to the next person.

I’m still on hold for The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Update pending. I finished the third part of The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This book is getting hard to put down which makes it difficult to stick with the Read Along timing. I’m doing my darndest! On audiobook I’m listening to Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. I’m really enjoying it so far! The narrator is good and the story is really moving. It’s a great mix of medical study and human interest story. My carpool buddy and I are still working on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It’s a bit slow going because we don’t carpool every day and I had a call-in meeting last week, but we’ll get there.

Recently finished: Nothing finished, but my review for The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa went up last week. Enjoy!

Reading Next:  I’m really hesitant to say anything right now. I’m in the middle of so many that I’m not ready to look forward to another just yet. It might be a book club selection, but I’m hoping it’s an ARC!

Hopefully I can get one or two of these finished in the next week! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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 Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

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.

Like this review? How about clicking ‘Like’ on Goodreads?

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
‘Esoteric equations and calculations sound beautiful and beguiling’ – The Housekeeper + The Professor by Yoko Ogawa | Bookmunch
The Housekeeper and the Professor (2003) – Yoko Ogawa | A Novel Approach
Book Review No. 1 – The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa | Vishy’s Blog

WWW Wednesday, 7-May-2014

7 May

I feel more in control of my reading now. I hope it’s not a false sense of security. I’m glad MizB’s WWW forces me to deal with my obsession. www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m going to pick up The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker today and get started on that again. I was really enjoying it so we’ll see where this goes. On my phone I’m reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. I’m slowly getting more and more into this one. Slowly. I’ve also started The Maze Runner by James Dashner. You can expect to see this on my list for a few months because it’s my first Read-Along selection. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’ll have read Chapters 1-9 by May 10th. I’ve finished the selection and now I’m working on writing some good questions to ask my fellow readers. On audiobook I just started I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak. The narrator is amazing and I’m really getting into it. I just joined a carpool so my audiobook usage is going to go down significantly but I’ll keep working on this one.

Recently finished: I finished Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk. I posted my review of it yesterday. I still owe you all a few more reviews. I’m working on them, I promise! Work has been a bit hectic but I’ll have catch-up time this weekend. Last night I finished  The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. It was a really quick and fun read. I’m looking forward to the book club discussion.

Reading Next:  I still want to read my NaNo book, so that’s the plan! I’ve got to get that re-written this year.

You can see the numbers really are going down. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 30-April-2014

30 Apr

My number of in-process books is slowly going down. Slowly. It’s still a bit out of control. I’m glad MizB’s WWW forces me to deal with my obsession.
www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’ve got one book more or less on hold right now. It’s The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker which is a Goodreads First Read I’ve been wanting to get into for months now. I hope to power through it in a few weeks when the book club stack slows down.

On audiobook I’m back to listening to Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk. I think I’m getting close to the end on this one and I’ve really enjoyed it for the laughs.

I just started The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa for my book club. No report on it yet but I’ve heard it’s a fast read. On my phone I’m reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s slow going but it’s starting to get interesting again and I’m excited to keep at this one. I think it will be well worth it in the end. I’ve also started The Maze Runner by James Dashner. You can expect to see this on my list for a few months because it’s my first Read-Along selection. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’ll have read Chapters 1-9 by May 10th.

Recently finished: Finished one book Monday and one on Tuesday! I’m so glad I can report something. I finished the audiobook for And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and a physical copy of The City and the City by China Mieville, which was a book club selection. Reviews coming… eventually!

Reading Next:  I want to re-read the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo so that’s next on my list. Sadly, no link to a webpage for it yet.

Phew that was long! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 23-April-2014

23 Apr

I’m always overwhelmed by my own post for WWW Wednesday hosted by MizB. I hope I can finish all the books I’m starting. Also, should I start including pictures? What do you all think?
www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I feel like I’m adding more to this list than I’m taking off. I started reading The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker which really excited me because I didn’t think I’d get to! This is a Goodreads First Read I got ages ago and haven’t been able to start. I’m only a little bit in and really enjoying it, but I’m putting it on hold because I’ve got a wave of book club books tumbling down on me. The first is The City and the City by China Mieville. Can anyone spell his name phonetically for me? I’m curious. It’s very science-fiction-y and that’s not usually my thing so we’ll see how this goes. So far, so good. On my phone I’m still working through The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s slow going here. The story is good, but not grabbing me the way I hoped it would. I hope it picks up soon.

On audio I’m about half way through And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I’m sad to announce that I’m not as into this story as I’d hoped to be. I’m hoping it’s a slow start, but it’s dragging a little. I think part of it is the narrators. Two of them have such strong accents that it distracts from how much I’m enjoying the story. I still have Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk to listen to while I’m cooking and cleaning and I’m really enjoying this option. It makes cooking funny.

Recently finished: I finished reading Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian on Friday. I adored the book, a full 5 out of 5 stars. I’m writing the review now and it should be up next week. I got tweeted by the author and it made my day!

Reading Next:  I’ll be starting two more books in the next week. The first is The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa which is for my book club. It’s a short one so I’m hoping I won’t be held up on it for too long. The second is The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This is the book chosen for my first Read Along With Me series. We haven’t started yet and there’s still time to join. There’s more information here and you can email me at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com if you’re interested in joining us.

Phew that was long! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

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Until next time, write on.