book review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

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THE HOUSEKEEPER AND THE PROFESSOR by Yoko Ogawa
translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
★★★★★
Picador, 2009

 

My only experience with Yoko Ogawa before now was her terrific short story collection Revenge, and though I’d heard that all of her books are drastically different from one another, I think I still expected to see a bit of Revenge‘s dark and macabre tone here. Instead, The Housekeeper and the Professor is utterly and unapologetically charming.

It focuses on the relationship between a housekeeper, her son, and a man whose house she’s assigned to by her agency, who she refers to only as ‘the Professor.’ The Professor has a condition which prevents him from creating new memories – his memory lasts only 80 minutes. He is nevertheless a brilliant man, and the likewise unnamed protagonist becomes increasingly spellbound by his unsolicited mathematical lectures.

There are any number of reasons why this book shouldn’t have worked for me; it’s sweet in tone, it’s about math, it’s about baseball. I don’t like any of these things. However, this book’s passion is positively infectious; this was like listening to a friend tell a story about something they love which you don’t particularly care about – sometimes regardless of the content, the enthusiasm itself is contagious. Also, I will say that this book helped me understand the sentiment that ‘math is like poetry,’ that I’ve heard a few times throughout my life, better than anything else ever has. No matter how many times I’ve witnessed an individual’s passion for math, it’s always seemed to me like this cold and rigid thing, but The Professor’s perspective on the relationship between numbers, and the solace he takes in their familiarity, really moved me.

But beyond the math and baseball, what makes this quirky book near-universally appealing is the unconventional, infinitely touching relationship between the two titular characters. The Housekeeper and the Professor is about empathy; it’s a testament to the unexpected possibilities of human connection. I just found this book to be a joy to read – quiet and subtle and nostalgic and affecting. Very highly recommended.


You can pick up a copy of The Housekeeper and the Professor here on Book Depository.

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24 thoughts on “book review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

  1. Yes, this is such a sweet book! I also hate math and baseball. I thought I came close to understanding a few things while reading this. I’m currently reading a book about some dudes who invented calculus and it’s just make me angry!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was so sweet! I wish the Professor could have been my math teacher, I think I would have enjoyed math a lot more. I actually found the equations super interesting. Which I have definitely never experienced in any other book about math. Calculus dudes sounds awful.

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  2. Sounds really good! I tend to have good experiences with Japanese literature (apart from The Travelling Cat Chronicles). I know nothing about baseball, but loved the one other novel I’ve read about baseball (The Art of Fielding) so have a good track record with that as well…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review! I can’t believe I’m actually considering adding a book about math and baseball to my TBR… the memory condition sounds intriguing though, and I do like a strong character dynamic. I think I still want to read The Memory Police as my first Ogawa, but it does sound like she’s got quite a range of excellent work; I’ll definitely keep this one in mind!

    Liked by 1 person

    • DO IT, I guarantee you will not regret it. There is nothing I hate more than baseball, and I still adored this unabashedly. I really want to read The Memory Police too, I keep hearing great things! I also recommend Revenge very highly.

      Liked by 1 person

    • This was only my second book by her, and so far I’ve loved them both. I think I ever so slightly prefer Revenge, but they’re both just so brilliant in entirely different ways. I’m so intrigued by the rest of her books.

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