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The Housekeeper and the Professor [Paperback]

Yoko Ogawa , Stephen Snyder
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 April 2009

He is a brilliant maths professor with a peculiar problem - ever since a traumatic head injury some seventeen years ago, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.

She is a sensitive but astute young housekeeper with a ten-year-old son, who is entrusted to take care of him.

Each morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are reintroduced to one another, a strange, beautiful relationship blossoms between them. The Professor may not remember what he had for breakfast, but his mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. He devises clever maths riddles - based on her shoe size or her birthday - and the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her little boy. With each new equation, the three lost souls forge an affection more mysterious than imaginary numbers, and a bond that runs deeper than memory.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family where one before did not exist.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (2 April 2009)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1846552508
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846552502
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.4 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 678,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Highly original. Infinitely charming. And ever so touching." (Paul Auster)

"This is one of those books written in such lucid, unpretentious language that reading it is like looking into a deep pool of clear water. But even in the clearest waters can lurk currents you don't see until you are in them." (The New York Times Book Review)

"Never before has the beauty of maths been so lovingly explored. This is a tale that will leave the reader gasping." (Irish 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'

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry from Euler's Identity 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and Sweet - the perfect palate cleanser 7 May 2012
By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An endearing story that stays with you 22 Jun 2009
By Julia Flyte TOP 50 REVIEWER
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
A lyrical, beautiful story about relationships and caring for people. This book was a truly wonderful read by a fantastic writer.
Published 1 month ago by Lingering
4.0 out of 5 stars A gem
This small, discreet novel is a little gem. Subtle and charming, it weaves a spell that binds the reader. Must read.
Published 2 months ago by Joanna R
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book
The Housekeeper and the Pofessor is a nice book. I would recommend it undoubtedly. Sensible and smart, beautifully narrated and good length
Published 3 months ago by Maria Teresa Szauer
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable read
Not a dramatic storyline but a lovely wee read all the same. Characters are totally believable. Ends a little abruptly.
Published 6 months ago by Margaret
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparse but haunting
"The Housekeeper and the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa is a tale of friendship between three unlikely people: the nameless Housekeeper (a young single mother), her ten-year-old son, and... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Sarah
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting introduction to number theory, perhaps
But not a great book. The story line seemed too implausible and as fiction, it was not good enough. A disappointment.
Published 11 months ago by michele
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Very nicely written and a lovely gentle story. I found myself checking all the maths and learning a couple of things I didn't know
Published 11 months ago by Mr. K. M. Fowler
4.0 out of 5 stars The Housekeeper and the Professor
I really good read Good characters and thought provoking. A compassionate book with humour and sadness at the same time
Published 12 months ago by Linda Wemyss
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended
This is a calm prose with currents below. It slowly creeped upon me and I have found myself invested in the characters without even realising it.
Published 15 months ago by Elif Kaya
5.0 out of 5 stars A sensory reading experience
I confess to have been afraid that I was going to be confused by mathematical equations but the reality is I felt like the housekeeper; loving every connection the professor found... Read more
Published 15 months ago by JuJuDollie
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