The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel

The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel

by Yoko Ogawa

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312427801
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 02/03/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 47,190
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile: 940L (what's this?)

About the Author

Yoko Ogawa's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope. Since 1988 she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, and has won every major Japanese literary award.

Read an Excerpt

Of all the countless things my son and I learned from the Professor, the meaning of the square root was among the most important. No doubt he would have been bothered by my use of the word countless—too sloppy, for he believed that the very origins of the universe could be explained in the exact language of numbers—but I don’t know how else to put it. He taught us about enormous prime numbers with more than a hundred thousand places, and the largest number of all, which was used in mathematical proofs and was in the Guinness Book of Records, and about the idea of something beyond infinity. As interesting as all this was, it could never match the experience of simply spending time with the Professor. I remember when he taught us about the spell cast by placing numbers under this square root sign. It was a rainy evening in early April. My son’s schoolbag lay abandoned on the rug. The light in the Professor's study was dim. Outside the window, the blossoms on the apricot tree were heavy with rain.

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. This gave us confidence even when our best efforts came to nothing.

"Then what happens if you take the square root of negative one?" he asked.

"So you'd need to get -1 by multiplying a number by itself?"

Root asked. He had just learned fractions at school, and it had taken a half-hour lecture from the Professor to convince him that numbers less than zero even existed, so this was quite a leap. We tried picturing the square root of negative one in our heads: v-1. The square root of 100 is 10; the square root of 16 is 4; the square root of 1 is 1. So the square root of -1 is . . .

He didn’t press us. On the contrary, he fondly studied our expressions as we mulled over the problem.

"There is no such number," I said at last, sounding rather tentative.

"Yes, there is," he said, pointing at his chest. "It's in here. It's the most discreet sort of number, so it never comes out where it can be seen. But it's here." We fell silent for a moment, trying to picture the square root of minus one in some distant, unknown place. The only sound was the rain falling outside the window. My son ran his hand over his head, as if to confirm the shape of the square root symbol.

But the Professor didn't always insist on being the teacher. He had enormous respect for matters about which he had no knowledge, and he was as humble in such cases as the square root of negative one itself. Whenever he needed my help, he would interrupt me in the most polite way. Even the simplest request—that I help him set the timer on the toaster, for example—always began with "I'm terribly sorry to bother you, but . . ." Once I’d set the dial, he would sit peering in as the toast browned. He was as fascinated by the toast as he was by the mathematical proofs we did together, as if the truth of the toaster were no different from that of the Pythagorean theorem.

***

It was March of 1992 when the Akebono Housekeeping Agency first sent me to work for the Professor. At the time, I was the youngest woman registered with the agency, which served a small city on the Inland Sea, although I already had more than ten years of experience. I managed to get along with all sorts of employers, and even when I cleaned for the most difficult clients, the ones no other housekeeper would touch, I never complained. I prided myself on being a true professional.

In the Professor's case, it only took a glance at his client card to know that he might be trouble. A blue star was stamped on the back of the card each time a housekeeper had to be replaced, and there were already nine stars on the Professor’s card, a record during my years with the agency.

When I went for my interview, I was greeted by a slender, elegant old woman with dyed brown hair swept up in a bun. She wore a knit dress and walked with a cane.

"You will be taking care of my brother-in-law," she said. I tried to imagine why she would be responsible for her husband's brother. "None of the others have lasted long," she continued. "Which has been a terrible inconvenience for me and for my brother-in-law. We have to start again every time a new housekeeper comes. . . . The job isn't complicated. You would come Monday through Friday at 11:00 A.M., fix him lunch, clean the house, do the shopping, make dinner, and leave at 7:00 P.M. That's the extent of it."

There was something hesitant about the way she said the words brother-in-law. Her tone was polite enough, but her left hand nervously fingered her cane. Her eyes avoided mine, but occasionally I caught her casting a wary glance in my direction.

"The details are in the contract I signed with the agency. I’m simply looking for someone who can help him live a normal life, like anyone else.”

"Is your brother-in-law here?" I asked. She pointed with the cane to a cottage at the back of the garden behind the house. A red slate roof rose above a neatly pruned hedge of scarlet hawthorn.

"I must ask you not to come and go between the main house and the cottage. Your job is to care for my brother-in-law, and the cottage has a separate entrance on the north side of the property. I would prefer that you resolve any difficulties without consulting me. That's the one rule I ask you to respect." She gave a little tap with her cane.

I was used to absurd demands from my employers—that I wear a different color ribbon in my hair every day; that the water for tea be precisely 165 degrees; that I recite a little prayer every evening when Venus rose in the night sky—so the old woman’s request struck me as relatively straightforward.

"Could I meet your brother-in-law now?" I asked.

"That won't be necessary." She refused so flatly that I thought I had offended her. "If you met him today, he wouldn’t remember you tomorrow."

"I'm sorry, I don’t understand."

"He has difficulties with his memory," she said. "He's not senile; his brain works well, but about seventeen years ago he hit his head in an automobile accident. Since then, he has been unable to remember anything new. His memory stops in 1975. He can remember a theorem he developed thirty years ago, but he has no idea what he ate for dinner last night. In the simplest terms, it’s as if he has a single, eighty-minute videotape inside his head, and when he records anything new, he has to record over the existing memories. His memory lasts precisely eighty minutes—no more and no less." Perhaps because she had repeated this explanation so many times in the past, the old woman ran through it without pause, and with almost no sign of emotion.

How exactly does a man live with only eighty minutes of memory? I had cared for ailing clients on more than one occasion in the past, but none of that experience would be useful here. I could just picture a tenth blue star on the Professor's card.

From the main house, the cottage appeared deserted. An old-fashioned garden door was set into the hawthorn hedge, but it was secured by a rusty lock that was covered in bird droppings.

"Well then, I'll expect you to start on Monday," the old woman said, putting an end to the conversation. And that's how I came to work for the Professor.

Copyright © 2003 by Yoko Ogawa; English translation copyright 2009 by Stephen Snyder. All rights reserved.

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. The characters in The Housekeeper and the Professor are nameless ("Root" is only a nickname). What does it mean when an author chooses not to name the people in her book? How does that change your relationship to them as a reader? Are names that important?

2. Imagine you are writer, developing a character with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. How would you manage the very specific terms of that character (e.g. his job,

his friendships, how he takes care of himself)? Discuss some of the creative ways in which Yoko Ogawa imagines her memory-impaired Professor, from the notes pinned to his suit to the sadness he feels every morning.

3. As Root and the Housekeeper grow and move forward in their lives, the Professor stays in one place (in fact he is deteriorating, moving backwards). And yet, the bond among the three of them grows strong. How is it possible for this seemingly one-sided relationship to thrive? What does Ogawa seem to be saying about memory and the very foundations of our profoundest relationships?

4. The Professor tells the Housekeeper: "Math has proven the existence of God because it is absolute and without contradiction; but the devil must exist as well, because we cannot prove it." Does this paradox apply to anything else, beside math? Perhaps memory?

Love?

5. The Houskeeper's father abandoned her mother before she was born; and then the

Housekeeper herself suffered the same fate when pregnant with Root. In a book where all of the families are broken (including the Professor's), what do you think Ogawa is saying about how families are composed? Do we all, in fact, have a fundamental desire to be a part of a family? Does it matter whom it's made of?

6. Did your opinion of the Professor change when you realized the nature of his relationship with his sister-in-law? Did you detect any romantic tension between the Professor and the Housekeeper, or was their relationship chaste? Perhaps Ogawa was intending ambiguity in that regard?

7. The sum of all numbers between one and ten is not difficult to figure out, but the

Professor insists that Root find the answer in a particular way. Ultimately Root and the

Housekeeper come to the answer together. Is there a thematic importance to their method of solving the problem? Generally, how does Ogawa use math to illustrate a whole worldview?

8. Baseball is a game full of statistics, and therefore numbers. Discuss the very different ways in which Root and the Professor love the game.

9. How does Ogawa depict the culture of contemporary Japan in The Housekeeper and the

Professor? In what ways does is it seem different from western culture? For example,

consider the Housekeeper's pregnancy and her attitude toward single motherhood; or perhaps look at the simple details of the story, like Root's birthday cake. In what ways are the cultures similar, different?

10. Ogawa chooses to write about actual math problems, rather than to write about math in the abstract. In a sense, she invites the reader to learn math along with the characters.

Why do you think she wrote the book this way? Perhaps to heighten your sympathy for the characters?

11. Do numbers bear any significance on the structure of this book? Consider the fact that the book has eleven chapters. Are all things quantifiable, and all numbers fraught with poetic

possibility?

Customer Reviews

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The Housekeeper and the Professor 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 102 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book because I found the professor so endearing (perhaps because my father was also a math professor) and the loyalty shown to him by the housekeeper and her son was so touching. It was just a sweet, sweet story that provided food for thought about the fascinating possibilities inherent in numbers, the way that even the most different people can develop a bond, and the enormous role memory plays in our lives.
quietreader More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful story about the connections between people, the time they share together and the lovely life that results from both. A wonderful book to discuss, to share with others and to enjoy on your own.
trevorscottbarton More than 1 year ago
This book is a serendipity, like a flower growing through a crack in the sidewalk. Ogawa's lowly housekeeper, broken math professor, and latchkey kid help readers explore what it means to be human - building community in the midst of loneliness, offering forgiveness in the midst of incivility, and finding hope in the midst of despair. It also introduces the wonderful worlds of math and baseball. It is a wonderful book!
Brasseur More than 1 year ago
This was a book club selection and I read it dutifully. I had hoped to be pulled in by the mathematical inquiry, but was not. And I just didn't care enough about the characters. I don't know if it's a question of translation. At times I could imagine that it was a more nuanced and elegant book in Japanese. Book club has not yet discussed it. It will be interesting to see the group's reaction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have give it as a gift several times and will encourage my Book Club to read it. It is simple, touching and memorable!
veiland on LibraryThing 24 days ago
***THIS REVIEW IS BASED ON THE RECEIPT OF AN ADVANCE UNCORRECTED PROOF***Three Sentence Synopsis: The Professor was once a highly regarded math Professor and theorist who now suffers from a complete loss of long-term memory and only has 80 minutes of short term memory. The Housekeeper, a single mother raising a son alone, has been contracted to take care of the Professor. The Housekeeper and her son give the Professor a new energy and enthusiasm for life before he is eventually placed into long-term care.Recommendation: With a plot device surrounding the loss of the Professor¿s memory, one might expect this book to be schmaltzy. However, the author uses a very light touch, stripping the story down to its basic elements and asking the reader to define, on their own, the meaning life, family, and love. The use of mathematics (a subject this reviewer was none too fond of in school) is beautiful and appropriate and encourages the reader to use a highly precise discipline to investigate the deeper meaning of human emotions. Highly recommended. Main Review:It was very hard to write a catchy opening paragraph, indeed an entire review, for The Housekeeper and the Professor because the book defies easy interpretation. Eventually I gave in and gave up. The Housekeeper and the Professor is a short but powerful book which asks the reader to consider so many different questions. How would you cope if you only had 80 minutes of memory for the rest of your life? What would it be like to wake up every morning and know that your life has changed and nothing will ever bring it back? How do you develop a relationship with someone who will only remember what has happened in the past 80 minutes? What is more important, our immediate experiences or our memories? What constitutes a family? Can someone employed to care for you truly be family or are they simply carrying out the duties of their job? What is love and how is it defined? The Housekeeper and the Professor asks these questions (and more) of its readers from the very beginning and opens up a beautiful world of possibilities to the reader.I enjoyed this book immensely. The Housekeeper (none of the characters are given names) is contracted to take care of the Professor. She is warned from the beginning that he only has 80 minutes of memory, after which he brain resets and you are back to square one. Everything about the Professor, from the notes pinned to his suit to his horrible table manners, suggest that this assignment may be one of her more difficult ones. Indeed, the Professor does seem to be the helpless party in the story, with only 80 minutes of memory and a complete dependency on his caretaker. However, the author quickly establishes the Professor as the strongest of the three main characters. Although he is dependent, he is also brilliant and has much to teach the Housekeeper and her son, who he nicknames ¿Root¿. He uses math as a way to teach the Housekeeper and her son to search for deeper meaning in life, to look at a problem beyond the obvious, and to look for elegance and meaning in everything. Do they become a family? That depends on how you define family, but I can say that the Professor does become a very important person in the lives of both Root and the Housekeeper. However, while the Professor is a brilliant mathematician, he is also permanently stuck on an 80-minute short term memory loop which stopped in 1975. Therefore, while the Housekeeper and Root move forward in life, growing and learning, the Professor ages and stagnates, eventually moving backward as his 80 minute tape shortens and eventually stops.I fear that I may have done a poor job of summarizing the true beauty of this book. I finished the book attempting to answer the questions I posited in the first paragraph and found myself rereading this novel again and again. In writing this recommendation, I wrote three different versions, none of which truly capture the beauty of Yoko
kidzdoc on LibraryThing 24 days ago
The narrator is a young woman employed by a housekeeping agency, who is assigned to work in the cottage of a retired mathematics professor in 1992. The Professor suffered a traumatic brain injury after a motor vehicle accident in 1975. His long-term memory prior to the accident is intact, but his short-term memory is limited to 80 minutes.She is a single mother of a 10 yr old boy, a latchkey child, and she has little time to spend with him, though she loves him deeply. The Professor insists that the child, who he calls Root, accompany his mother after school. The Professor takes to Root as if he was the son that he never had, and Root for the first time has an adult figure in his life who can provide him with love and attention.This is a beautifully told, metaphorically rich story of memory and experience, and the characters are adorable and unforgettable. It is a novel to be savored and revisited.
Michele on LibraryThing 24 days ago
A lovely novel about relationships, math, and baseball. This is a fast, engaging story about a professor with a brain injury that affects his short -term memory, and the relationship he builds with his housekeeper and her young son. They bond over math problems and a shared love of baseball, and develop a memorable connection.
gkleinman on LibraryThing 24 days ago
If you are even remotely a fan of mathematics you will love The Housekeeper and The Professor. Written as a love letter to math (and baseball) this short book uses the poetry of numbers within the context of an uncommon relationship.A math professor is injured in an accident in the late 70's and can no longer make new memories. His short term memory is only an eighty minute window after which it resets. A woman is hired on as his housekeeper and finds a way through the issues of memory to a relationship based on math.It's a very simple concept that lays the foundation for a really fantastic story that deals with a wide number of themes well beyond math and memory.I thoroughly enjoyed The Housekeeper and The Professor. It is an extremely focused book that never veers off track. Although the characters are never formally named they are extremely well drawn and you quickly get drawn into their world and relationship. While I am not a huge fan of math, I was intrigued with the weaving of math throughout the story and Yoko Ogawa used math in a lyrical and poetic way.A solid book that I heartily recommend.
bookcrushblog on LibraryThing 24 days ago
A tender account, this book is a quick, satisfying read. Ogawa's characters are generously drawn in this tale of a relationship between an amnesiac math genius and a young, dedicated single mother. This book easily captivates from the beginning. Quite a delight!
ccayne on LibraryThing 24 days ago
I loved this book - the imagery of the professor with notes stuck on his suit, the housekeeper cooking, Root's relationship with the professor and the sister-in-law self-exiled in the big house. The writing was elegant, the characters compelling and the story enchanting. I found the passages about numbers fascinating.
cobrien1250 on LibraryThing 24 days ago
A beautifully translated story about a nameless housekeeper and the math professor for whom she works. He is a genius with numbers, but has only a short term memory of 80 minutes, due to an accident. Their evolving relationship is poignantly described, and very touching.
quzy on LibraryThing 24 days ago
The beauty of numbers... For some of us numbers are a dark mystery that we know can solve the problem of man flying to the moon but we must believe this on faith. For others math is like a series of brushstrokes on a piece of lined paper that form a glimpse into a perfect piece of artwork. In Yoko Ogawa's book The Housekeeper and the Professor, the professor is the later - a brilliant mathematician that loves numbers. But he has a bit of a problem - his memory lasts only 80 minutes - and this fact is prominently pinned as a note to his suit jacket so he can 'remember' that fact. Actually anything of importance in pinned to his suit jacket, so that he looks like a walking bulletin board. But this book isn't really about mathematics, but a story about the love shared by the virtual family of the professor, the housekeeper who is hired to take card of the professor, and the housekeepers 10 yr. old son. And it is the story of hope, where you can find meaning in your life no matter what your circumstances.As the result of a traumatic brain injury sustained in an auto accident almost 20 years ago, the professor, who is just referred to as 'the professor' thru-out the whole story, has a memory that lasts only 80 minutes. The Housekeeper is the woman the professors sister-in-law has hired to take care of him. And every morning when the housekeeper reports for work, they reintroduce themselves and start anew. The professors mind is still alive with the equations of his past and lives his life by sharing his love of mathematics wiht the housekeeper and her 10 year old son, Root, who the professor call Root because his head is flat like the square root symbol. Simple numbers like the housekeeper's birthday of Feb. 20th become a lesson in natural numbers... "220 ( 2 - 20 ) is divisible by 1 and 220, with nothing left over, so 1 and 220 are factors of 220. And Natural Numbers always have 1 and itself as factors..." Or the professors favorite baseball player's number is the number 28 - a perfect number! (what's a perfect number? you'll have to read the book to find out...)But the beauty of this story is it's simplicity. The characters have no names, except for root which is really a nickname, and the majority of the story takes place within the walls of a run down cottage that the professor lives in. The Housekeeper's empathy towards the professor slowly transforms him from a lonely 2 dimensional hermit, to a character with a bit of flash & blood, with feelings and thoughts that you believe he's finally being able to express out loud because of the love a a hired housekeeper and her fatherless son.Simply a charming book. Each sentence is like a whisper of a thought, hardly detectable, but slowly builds into a touching & memorable story. At 180 pages it becomes a perfect afternoon read.
bookvampire on LibraryThing 24 days ago
A delightful read. It is only 180 pages long but as the story of a Japanese housekeeper, her young son and the math genius (loses his memory every eighty minutes) unfolds the characters come vividly alive. The author quickly and skillfully draws the reader into their daily lives. Along the way the reader will learn something about mathematics and Japanese baseball. I highly recommend it.
stonelaura on LibraryThing 24 days ago
Since suffering a head injury in an automobile accident in 1975 the Professor¿s present-day memory only lasts for eighty minutes. Each day when his housekeeper arrives he greets her anew. Before his accident the Professor was a brilliant mathematician and now he uses math to cope with the stresses of his peculiar situation. Ogawa has created an interesting concept and treats her characters with great respect through careful development and great sensitivity. The story is partially revealed through the Housekeeper and her son¿s loving initiation into math concepts presented daily by the Professor. Those who enjoy the beauty of math will find extra benefits from this unusual book.
librarymeg on LibraryThing 24 days ago
The Housekeeper and the Professor tells the truly unique story of a single mother, her 10 year-old son, and the math professor she works for. The housekeeper is the latest in the long line of housekeepers who have found it impossible to work for the professor, who as a result of an accident has only eighty minutes of memory and forgets everything new from day to day.The story weaves friendship and everyday life with numbers and mathematics, and the best way I can think of to describe this unique book is through the following quote:"'The truly correct proof is one that strikes a harmonious balance between strength and flexibility. There are plenty of proofs that are technically correct but are messy and inelegant or counterintuitive. But it's not something you can put into words - explaining why a formula is beautiful is like trying to explain why the stars are beautiful.'" (p. 16)This book is full of sweet and three-dimensional characters with genuine and caring relationships. The writing is skillful and beautiful, and somehow Ogawa has managed to make the numbers not only matter to the story, but matter to the reader. The beauty and logic of numbers is the guiding light for the memory-impaired professor, and is the connecting thread between him and the family who grows to care so much for him. A wonderful book, and the included discussion questions make it a great choice for book clubs.
istoria on LibraryThing 24 days ago
This book reminds me of Sophie's World, a journey through philosophy's history tied to one girl's journey. The use of math here was never intrusive instead it worked seamlessly into the story. I've heard of some but like the narrator I was excited to learn the new rules that the Professor explained. The Professor was so well done I could almost hear the crinkling of his paper each time he entered the story. I could imagine the smells and sounds of the house he inhabited. Really, the story was just lovely over all and I would recommend it highly.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing 24 days ago
This is a beautiful, luminous story about a young single mother who becomes the housekeeper for a brilliant mathematician who, because of a brain injury, has a short term memory of only eighty minutes. I read some wonderful reviews on LT about this book so I ordered it from my Valley Cat library system. I had to wait more than two months, but it was worth the wait. This book resonated with me on many levels. My father was a mathematician, so is my older son and I have always been fascinated by math. I was care giver for my father for several years because he suffered from short term memory loss. I love baseball and there is a lot of baseball in this book¿the major league in Japan. And underlying all this are the implied themes of love and family, especially in ways that make you reexamine what it means to be a family and what makes a family. The math in the book is not only easy to follow, it also becomes something that revelatory about life and the universe. As the housekeeper learns to perceive these relationships it changes her life. This is my favorite quote from the book: ¿Math has proven the existence of God, because it is absolute and without contradiction; but the devil must exist as well, because we cannot prove it.¿I¿m going to want to buy this book because it is one I will definitely read again¿and compel my friends to read it. Highly recommended
cinesnail88 on LibraryThing 24 days ago
I read about this book in the NYT Book Review and happened to see it in a bookstore several weeks later. On a whim I bought it and I'm glad I did. Despite it's relatively short length, this novel by Ogawa packs a punch. The Professor is an endlessly lovable character - and the fact the Ogawa doesn't try to tidily wrap things up and tell you everything at the end was appreciated - by me, at least.
bkatz on LibraryThing 24 days ago
This is a beautiful book which ask questions such as "what is the nature of family" and "what is connection" and "how important is memory." A housekeeper and her 10-year-old son care for an elderly man who was once a brilliant math professor. He had a severe car accident in 1975, and while he retains old memories, he can only sustain new memories for 80 minutes. The three develop a friendship and become a "family" through connection. However, because of the professor's memory, he re-meets the mother and son every day as if for the first time. The three bond over math and baseball; the uneducated housekeeper finds she can follow some complex math if she works at it, which enhances her sense of self. The boy and professor love each other, the boy showing heightened maturity in his behavior toward the professor. According to the Washington Post, this book sold more than 2.5 copies in Japan and was made into a movie. Ron Charles writes, "Perhaps Ogawa's Japanese fans, who are several years ahead of us on the inevitable shuffle toward a geriatric society, are responding to her quiet spiritual wisdom " (Washington Post, Feb. 15, 2009).
kougogo on LibraryThing 24 days ago
Why are so many novels (& stories, etc.) by Japanese women described as 'deceptively simple'? I don't think there is anything deceptive, simple, or deceptively simple about The Housekeeper and the Professor. It is a powerful, precise, tender and unsentimental look at love in all its many permutations - romantic, maternal, and child-like.
punxsygal on LibraryThing 24 days ago
A lovely, little book that examines the relationship between a housekeeper and her client, a retired mathematics professor. Neither is named in the book, though her son is referred to as "Root" because his head reminded the professor of the sign for a square root in mathematics. The professor has lived for approximately with a short term memory that resets itself every 80 minutes. The housekeeper has been hired to tend to his needs in the small cottage in which he resides - cleaning, shopping, preparing the evening meal. Each meeting between them is new to the professor and begins with a discussion of the mathematical implications of a number such as her birth weight or her telephone number. Even though math is discussed throughout the book, it is possible to read and enjoy the book while skimming over the math. However, to better understand the way the mind of the professor works and his relationship with the housekeeper, it is better to delve into the explanations a bit to see the beauty that numbers add to the world.
BCCJillster on LibraryThing 24 days ago
Brilliant, even for those of us not math-inclined. Special characters and memories.
kmaziarz on LibraryThing 24 days ago
The narrator of this quiet, deceptively simple narrator is a young housekeeper and the mother of a 10 year old son. Her new assignment initially gives her pause, as nine other housekeepers from her agency have already been assigned this client and have either left or been fired. But when she meets the Professor, her new client, in his small cottage, she finds herself more charmed and intrigued than cautious. The Professor, a brilliant theoretical mathematician, was injured in a car accident 17 years previously and now cannot recall anything after the year 1975. His short-term memory works in 80 minute chunks; after 80 minutes have passed, he has to begin re-learning the details of his life and re-meeting those around him. A quirky, quiet character, the Professor wears a suit festooned with small notes to himself in an effort to compensate for his memory loss¿the most important of these notes reminds him of the nature of his memory loss itself. The housekeeper, never one for numbers and mathematics, nevertheless finds herself intrigued by the Professor¿s discussions of number theory and higher math. He has a way of describing things that makes math elegant to her, and gives her the inspiration to undertake her own problems. She introduces him to her son, a youth whose flat head reminds him of the square root symbol and whom he nicknames ¿Root¿ without fail, every time he re-meets the child. Slowly but surely, the three begin to resemble a strange sort of family, with a deep and mostly unspoken bond of understanding that even transcends the Professor¿s odd memory cycle.Delicate, whimsical, with the feel of a fable and surprising depths hidden beneath the surface, ¿The Housekeeper and the Professor¿ is highly recommended.
sammimag on LibraryThing 24 days ago
A thoroughly delightful novel about a housekeeper, her son, and a mathematician who suffers from short term memory. It was my peaceful before bed reading novel. I enjoyed it for the relationships but also enjoyed the bit of math thrown in. I highly recommend it.