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The Housekeeper and the Professor Paperback – 1 Apr 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (1 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099521342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099521341
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`Yet again, the extraordinary Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa casts her spell in this gentle tale of mesmerising pathos' --Irish Times

`Ogawa left this reader moved and with his faith in the potential goodness of humans reaffirmed'. --The Times

`This is a marvellous book...I felt a real sense of loss on reaching the end.'
--The Times

`a charming, slight and well-told story.' --The Times

'Ogawa's brilliance lies ... in taking such an apparently stiff framework and bending it into a work of warmth and beauty'
--The Times

Review

`fable-like... poetic descriptions'

`it is so funny and sharp'

'This hilarious romp through modern culture by the Guardian columnist highlights the bizarre reach of hollow fame these days... Shudder-inducingly funny' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 7 May 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've recently been reading either dry non-fiction books or hefty fantasy novels that would probably serve quite well as ballast on ships. I felt like reading something different, and having heard that The Housekeeper and the Professor was a quick, easy read, I decided to try it.

The first person narrator is a conscientious housekeeper who is given the job of taking care of an ageing, brain damaged mathematician. His brain damage takes the form of extreme memory loss: he can only recall the last 80 minutes before his memory reverts to 1975. Since the book takes place in 1992, this is a pretty big problem.

This is a small novel with a small cast. Only three characters are well represented: the housekeeper and professor of the title, and the housekeeper's son. It's a quiet, tale, too. Yet Ogawa's characterisation of these three sucked me in completely, and soon I was fascinated by the mundane joys and sorrows of their lives. The narrator's voice is consistently likeable and imparts a subtle bittersweet nostalgia to the tale that fits perfectly.

Alongside the character focused story, there runs a thread of mathematics. The narrator discovers a love for maths from the professor, and there are many passages where she (along with the reader) attempts to puzzle out some problem the professor has given her. Rather than feeling intrusive, these passages end up feeling absolutely necessary for understanding the Professor, as well as the narrator and her son. Mathematics provides ways for people to order and understand the world around them, and I found it refreshing to see characters in a novel find comfort in this understanding.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Paul on 16 Feb 2009
Format: Paperback
How do we develop relationships with people? What does our memory mean in these relationships? Is it possible to form a relationship with someone who can not remember that he ever met you even though you see him every day? Yoko Ogawa has written a perfect, poetic story that tries to explore these questions.

The book is written from the point of view of a woman hired to be a housekeeper for a retired math professor. The professor was in a car accident that damaged his brain, destroying his short term memory. Every day she arrives to do her job and the professor has no memory of her ever being there before. When the professor finds out that the housekeeper is a single mom with a young son, he insists that the boy come to his house every day and even though he has no memory of the invitation, the professor is thrilled to see him each day. What brings the three together is the professor's love of mathematics and his ability to share that love along with the love of baseball that they all share.

The result is a simple, beautiful story and at 180 pages, it is long enough to make you think without dragging out the story beyond its need. The author even creates poetry from discussions of prime numbers and Euler's identity. I can strongly recommend this book.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Julia Flyte TOP 100 REVIEWER on 22 Jun 2009
Format: Paperback
Set in Japan, this short novel is the story of a 28 year old housekeeper who goes to work for a former maths professor. She is the 10th housekeeper to be sent by the agency, none of the others having lasted long. He has two characteristics that make him difficult to work for. One is that he is obsessed with maths, talks maths constantly and equates everything in the world to a mathematical formula (he refers to her son as `root" because his flat head reminds the professor of the square root symbol). But more significantly, the professor suffered a head injury 25 years ago that damaged his memory. He can remember everything that happened to him before the accident, but otherwise his memory only lasts 80 minutes. So although she grows increasingly fond of him, she needs to re-introduce herself to him when she arrives each day and their relationship starts anew.

It's an interesting premise and quite a moving story. As she grows fonder of the professor, she also learns to communicate with him in his "language" - ie by relating everything to maths - and to develop a love of maths all of her own.

Ultimately I felt that the story was almost too sparse and could have been further developed, but it's still an endearing book that stays with you after you finish it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Shamma on 12 Nov 2011
Format: Paperback
This beautiful, haunting novel touched me in ways I can never begin to express or describe. The way I feel towards this book, towards the characters, towards Yoko Ogawa even - it leaves me speechless.

My feelings for the professor in specific will forever exist. The way in which he was depicted, his life before and after the accident, how his brain works, how his emotions are stirred within such a short time-span - we are talking eighty minutes here, that is an hour and twenty minutes.

I read this novel, and I wept. I wept for the professor whose memory only lasts eighty minutes and who adores children. I wept for Root, who quickly became attached to the old man and loved him and cared for him with a maturity way beyond his years. I wept for the Housekeeper, who was always a mother and caretaker at heart. And I even wept for the sister-in-law, whose great, profound love for the professor was never expressed in words - and it never needed to be.

To be able to make me - a reader - feel so strongly towards characters that aren't only fictional, but remained nameless the whole way through, is an incredible accomplishment in itself.

And Yoko Ogawa has proved to be incredible.

What an honour to have read and been made temporarily a part of such amazing people's lives.

This will always remain with me. The memory of a professor who lived with eighty minutes of short-term memory and his lovely housekeeper. The memory of this novel and how it made me feel will definitely last way longer than eighty minutes.
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