The Housekeeper and the Professor

He is a brilliant math professor with a peculiar problem – ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.She is an astute Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities – like the Housekeeper’s shoe size – and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together even as his memory slips away.

The success of Ogawa’s “deceptively elegant novel” (New York Times Book Review) was a surprise, considering its lack of action, romance, melodrama, and even character names (none of which are ever mentioned). However, there is enough suspense and sly humor to keep readers enchanted by this slow-paced, delicate novel – even those with bad memories of high school math class. Ogawa makes a crucial choice not to minimize the impact of the professor’s brain injuries; she portrays his limitations and daily difficulties realistically, but also with warmth and affection. Critics praised Stephen Snyder’s seamless translation and compared Ogawa’s graceful prose to that of Japanese writers Kenzaburo Oe and Haruki Murakami. This touching story of a devoted friendship may captivate Western readers as well. (page 35)

But the truth was, we were almost never bored when he spoke of mathematics. Though he often returned to the topic of prime numbers – the proof that there were an infinite number of them, or a code that had been devised based on primes, or the most enormous known examples, or twin primes, or the Mersenne primes – the slightest change in the shape of his argument could make you see something you had never understood before. Even a difference in the weather or in his tone of voice seemed to cast these numbers in a different light (page 62)

“Let’s try finding the prime numbers up to 100,” the Professor said one day when Root had finished his homework. He took his pencil and began making a list…….……”So, what do you see?” He tended to begin with this sort of general question.“They’re scattered all over the place.” Root usually answered first. “And 2 is the only one that’s even.” For some reason, he always noticed the odd man out.“You’re right. Two is the only even prime. It’s the leadoff batter for the infinite team of prime numbers after it.”“That must be awfully lonely,” said Root.“Don’t worry,” said the Professor. “If it gets lonely, it has lots of company with the other even numbers.”“But some of them come in pairs, like 17 and 19, and 41 and 43,” I said, not wanting to be shown up by Root.“A very astute observation,” said the Professor. “Those are known as ‘twin primes.'” (pages 62 and 63)

I thought of the Professor whenever I saw a prime number – which, as it turned out, was almost everywhere I looked: price tags at the supermarket, house numbers above doors, on bus schedules or the expiration date on a package of ham, Root’s score on a test. On the face of it, these numbers faithfully played their official roles, but in secret they were primes and I knew that was what gave them their true meaning.……One day while I was cleaning in the kitchen in the tax consultant’s house, I found a serial number engraved on the back of the refrigerator door: 2311. It looked intriguing, so I took out my notepad, moved aside the detergent and rags, and set to work…..Once I proved that 2,311 was prime, I put the notepad back in my pocket and went back to my cleaning, though now with a new affection for this refrigerator, which had a prime serial number. It suddenly seemed so noble, divisible by only one and itself.” (pages 112-113)

## 22 Comments

## JoAnn

Bookmarks magazine did it for me, too. This a must read for me this year!

## Vivienne

This one has been on my list for awhile, after reading a fabulous review of it before Christmas.

How amazing that the translator is at the same college as you. I would have to try and meet him.

## Mausi

I have read this book in Japanese and I also liked it. I felt lots of love from this book. I did not know it was translated into English. Great review ðŸ™‚

## tokemise

I read this book too. It is just lovely.

## bermudaonion

I bought this after reading a review on another blog and hope to read it soon. I'm so glad to see you loved it too.

## Steph

I want to read more Asian fiction in 2010, and after all the good reviews I've seen of this one, I think it will be a contender! It also appeals to me because I'm interested in questions of memory, and I love numbers! ðŸ˜‰ Glad to see that you found this novel so worthwhile!

## Book

I hope you get a chance to meet the professor at Middlebury College. What a great interview that would make!

My review of this novel was submitted to the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 hosted by dolce bellezza. I think the challenge goes to jan. 30 of this year and requires only one book!

let us know if you meet the translator!

## Book Dilettante aka Book Bird Dog

I hope you get a chance to meet the professor at Middlebury College. What a great interview that would make!

My review of this novel was submitted to the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 hosted by dolce bellezza. I think the challenge goes to jan. 30 of this year and requires only one book!

let us know if you meet the translator!

## Diane

Molly,

Glad to see that you enjoyed this book — me too!

## Becky

This comment has been removed by the author.

## Becky

I have wanted to read this for a long time. I saw it reviewed on the ABC's First Tuesday of the Month Book Club (a book club on a television station) and it sounded amazing. I am so glad that you reviewed it, it has reiterated how much I want to read it and I have added it to my wishlist with a link to your review. Cheers

## Jo

Great review. I've read a few reviews of this but this is the first thats convinced me to look for it!

## Anonymous

Great review. This is one of those books I never tire of reading about!

## Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow

This sounds really intriguing! Thanks for sharing it.

## Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc.

Hmm very interesting. I really liked some of these quotes. Great post!

## Margot at Joyfully Retired

I liked all the quotes you used. It gave me a good sense of what the book will be like. I'm also looking for a good Asian novel. I've added this to my list.

## Belle

This sounds like a lovely read, Molly. I've always been fond of math – there can be such an elegance in equations. I've only ever seen beautiful prose about math in math-specific books, so I'll definitely have to give this one a try!

## Lisa

This was one of my top five books of last year. Simply beautiful.

## ds

I've heard such great things about this book, but you have put it over the edge, Molly! I will be thinking about prime numbers all night ðŸ˜‰ Thank you!

## Iliana

Great review, Molly! I just got this one from the library over the weekend and am really looking forward to it.

## Paperback Reader

I'm going to start reading this tomorrow hopefully and highly looking forward to it!

## Sandra

I loved this story. It was such a bonus for me that it was set in Japan too. Glad you enjoyed it. as well. Thanks for reviewing it.