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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
The Housekeeper and the Professor
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on 7 June 2015
A wonderful narrative voice, delicate and restrained. A quiet novel about character and relationships. I am guessing that the translator is really good too because the dialogue doesn't clunk like most contemporary Japanese fiction I have read recently (not that much but enough). Have been delighted to share this find with friends.
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on 6 July 2017
An okay read, Wouldn't read it again. Others at my book club found it delightful. I found it a little incredulous and difficult to read.
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on 10 August 2017
Interesting idea; maths a bit banal; the rapid onset amnesia not fully explored.
Lovely characters.
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on 3 September 2017
An Unexpectedly moving story. It resonated because I have suffered a traumatic brain injury although with no memory loss and my husband was a mathematician.
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on 18 March 2017
Excellent Buy
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on 2 December 2012
A very good book about relationship between three people. We read it in our book club and most of the people really liked it.
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on 12 November 2011
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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on 22 August 2017
This month we travelled to Japan for our Read Around the World Book Club on Goodreads. I can honestly say that The Housekeeper + The Professor by Yoko Ogawa is one of the most beautiful, warm, gentle narratives exploring human connection that I have read in quite some time.

The Professor is a man in his sixties with a passion for maths and a memory that only lasts for eighty minutes at a time. His brain then resets back to the time of his accident in 1975 and so he has to constantly relearn in order to navigate his life. The Housekeeper is a young woman, very much starved of affection with low self-esteem and a sensitive soul, who is employed by the Professor’s sister in law, to take care of him. The Housekeeper also has a son, who the Professor names Root (due to the flat top of his head reminding him of a square root). The book charts their daily navigation of the Professor’s memory loss, but much more so the incredible bond that is forged between three lonely, lost souls. Along the way there is also a gorgeous exploration of maths – and I never thought I would write the word gorgeous to describe maths in any shape or form!

Maths is the leitmotif, the weaving thread and it is lyrical, personal and compelling. For me, maths and the connected logical thinking often feels like my nemesis. However, maths here symbolises communication, adventure and connection with the world. One of my favourite moments is when the Housekeeper describes the relationship between Root and the Professor in terms of prime numbers:

‘He treated Root exactly as he treated prime numbers. For him, primes were the base on which all other natural numbers relied; and children were the foundation of everything worthwhile in the adult world.’

This is very much a character piece; the plot is there to showcase these three kindred spirits and their unique relationship with each other. However, at no point did I think the book lost focus and the slower pace did not affect my engagement with the book in the slightest.

I loved the character development very much. The isolated Professor comes alive through his relationship with Root and his quality of life is enriched immensely by the care of the Housekeeper. Root in turn blossoms thank to the Professor- his confidence, resilience and love for learning are really lovely to witness. As for the Housekeeper, she learns to take pride in herself, discovers her own love for learning and by finding herself, is able to form a closer relationship with her son. Ogawa delivers all this without a sugary coating; life can be sad and miracles are hard to find, but the beauty to be found shines through.

You might have noticed by now that this book does not have named characters. I knew this from the blurb and was worried that the characters would therefore be types, and consequently be harder to engage with. As it turns out, exactly the opposite happens. Human connection transcends the need for labelling.

We are only given glimpses of the Professor’s past, his only relative, the sister in law, remains abstract and only marginally involved in the storyline. Whilst I found this the one frustrating point, as I wanted to find out more about this quirky, utterly lovely man, I also found myself in the shoes of the Professor i.e. only seeing snapshots, trying to piece together what I found out. You see, I can’t even keep this as a negative!

The Housekeeper and the Professor is one of those books where you glance at its spine in years to come and get that really fond feeling inside. Simply beautiful.

I shall leave you with one of my favourite descriptions of The Professor, which really spoke to the little girl inside, who believes she can’t do maths:

‘The Professor never really seemed to care whether we figured out the right answer to a problem. He preferred our wild, desperate guesses to silence, and he was even more delighted when those guesses led to new problems that took us beyond the original one. He had a special feeling for what he called the ‘correct miscalculation’, for he believed that mistakes were often as revealing as the right answers.’
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 July 2015
The Professor needs a new housekeeper. Many have been offered this job, but nobody managed to last for a very long time. The Professor has a brilliant mind, but because of an accident his memory doesn't function very well anymore. He can remember everything and everyone from before the accident, but now after 80 minutes everything is gone from his mind again. That means he will never be able to remember the Housekeeper. She has to introduce herself to him every time the 80 minutes are up. The Professor uses notes that he attaches to his suit, this reminds him of basic things, like the fact that he has a memory problem. When he hears about the Housekeeper's son, Root, he asks her to bring him. Even though the Professor forgets Root as well they still have a special connection. The Professor is still very good at maths. He tries to solve problems and he teaches Root. Slowly the Housekeeper, Root and the Professor find a routine together, one that will be beneficiary to all of them.

The professor can come up with the most amazing connections between numbers. Because of this book I started to appreciate the beauty of some of them. I learned a lot about maths and the way numbers can have some kind of amazing relationship. The professor will never be able to have any permanent memories from the time after his accident. He's forced to live in a present that is inevitably linked with the past. The Housekeeper learns to find a way to connect with him and through her memory they discuss something new every time. Root loves his chats with the professor, especially when they talk about sports. Even though the professor can't ever remember any new names in the teams with some adjustments and little white lies from Root they can have the most wonderful conversations about their favorite topic besides math. It was so moving to see the ten year old boy and the Professor interact with each other.

The Housekeeper and the Professor has impressed me very much. The story is original and very well written. Having a memory that erases itself is one of the most horrible things there is, but because of his extremely bright mind the Professor manages to live with it in a very smart way. I loved him from the start and he's a character that will always have a special place in my heart. He loves children and Root is a boy, so every time he sees him it brightens the Professor's day. That was so beautiful to watch. I really enjoyed reading this unusual book about love and friendship in an almost impossible situation. I read this story in one sitting and think it's so good that I can't praise it enough.
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on 2 November 2013
"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 a brilliant mathematics professor with a head injury. The Housekeeper shows up for work on the first day just as she has for other employers; she's used to odd requests and finicky housewives, but the Professor is another story entirely. A promising mathematician who was educated at Cambridge, he was injured in a car accident in 1975 that resulted in him losing his job at the university and in the debilitating condition of total short-term memory loss after eighty minutes. This means that every day, he must greet the housekeeper and her son as if for the first time. In order to aid him, his three suits are covered in dozens of scrawled notes and drawings. He never leaves the house, hates crowds, and only wants to be left alone with his only friends: numbers.

But the housekeeper and her son, nicknamed Root by the professor for his flat head, become friends with the withdrawn, fragile professor; they are entranced by the beauty of his world of numbers, and he eloquently explains various theorems and relationships that have a lasting impact on both mother and son, particularly on Root. Ogawa's elegant mathematical prose reminded me strongly of Daniel Tammet's Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant; both narrators describe lonely childhoods with numbers as their sole friends, and both Daniel ( a real-life mathematic and linguistic savant with Asperger's Syndrome) and the Professor describe their thought processes regarding language and numbers in sensory rather than abstract terms that are utterly fascinating. Perhaps it's a side effect of his head injury, but the Professor exhibits several behaviors that are typical of those on the autistic spectrum (many mathematicians and scientists have Asperger's Syndrome, including autistic savants Kim Peek and Daniel Tammet), including withdrawing into his world of numbers when uncomfortable or nervous, dislike of large crowds and unfamiliar situations, resistance to changes in routine, and talking at length about his two great loves, math and baseball.

Ogawa's sparse prose gives exactly enough description while focusing primarily on the developing relationship between the three. The novel's central discussion of the fragile workings of the human mind, the nature of genius, and the ways in which we view our world are gripping and sensitively drawn, and the included reading group discussion questions offer several good launching points for a deeper discussion of symbols and culture as presented in the novel. Those who enjoyed A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash and Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant will find much to enjoy in "The Housekeeper and the Professor."
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