The Housekeeper & The Professor – Yoko Ogawa

Sometime last year or even the year before, I borrowed The Housekeeper & The professor by Yoko Ogawa from the library. I had to return it before I could get passed 50 pages but I remember really enjoying what I’d read. To put it simply I had rather high hopes, but as is often the case when you go into a book expecting great things – I was disappointed.

It’s an okay book. The thing I liked in those first fifty pages, I can sort of guess what it was but there was simply nothing remarkable there to me now, maybe it didn’t hold up to rereading or maybe, more likely, my taste has changed. But as for the writing, like japanese literature in general, there’s a certain rhythm and world view, a very particular way with words I keep coming across in Japanese litt, which was also present here and which I liked.

Other than the general sense, what makes this book interesting is the peculiar set of characters. The Professor’s memory only lasts for 80 minutes, so every day the Housekeeper (and her son, Root) visits it is as if he’s meeting them for the first time. His short memory span shapes his life, from the way he wears a suit covered with notes (things to remember) to the fact that he avoids as much as humanly possible to leave his house and go to the outside world. The second peculiar thing about him is his immense interest in mathematics.

The characters are interesting in themselves, the fact that these three (the professor an eldery man, the housekeeper a working mom, and her son Root 10 y o) become a family of sorts, that they co-exist in such a peaceful way and that their relationship stays alive even when the professors memory wanes. The interactions on their own make this book.

But there is a great deal of focus on two themes in the book, themes that are discussed and explained and thought over in more paragraphs than the actual living of the characters: mathematics, and baseball. Now, to someone who likes either one of these it might not be a problem but I have very little interest in math and even less in baseball. At first I tried to follow the explanations of different mathematical formulas but soon I was just skimming through them to “get to the good parts” and then the good parts were just good, not great. So overall an okay book but not one to keep. The end was sweet though and possibly one of my favorite parts of the book.

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