Jul 13, 2009

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

 Memorable characters and story are a prerequisite for literary fiction, according to Literary fiction vs genre fiction.

The Housekeeper and the Professor  is definitely literary fiction based on those criteria. The housekeeper and the professor aren't named, as names aren't important in the book. Nor is time. What matters are the personalities, their interactions, and the relationship they develop.

The professor is a math genius who remembers nothing that happened after 1975 because of head injuries in a car accident. His short term memory lasts only eighty minutes. His new housekeeper has to remind him who she is every day when she comes in to clean and cook. The professor keeps track of his chores or work schedule by pinning reminder notes to his suit.

In spite of the strange situation, the Professor and the Housekeeper and her young son develop a caring friendship. He teaches them math concepts and math formulas, and becomes concerned about the son's welfare. How this is possible given his short term memory is the basis of the novel.

A five star book, definitely. Also short and easy to read, so long as you don't stop to solve the math problems!
"The thing the Professor hated most in the whole world was a crowd, which is why he was to reluctant to leave the house. Stations, trains, department stores, movie theaters, shopping malls - any place people gathered in large numbers was unbearable for him. there was something fundamentally incompatible between crushing, random crowds and pure mathematical beauty." p. 64
(Japanese Literature Challenge 3, Lost in Translation Challenge. and Support your Local Library Reading Challenge)

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19 comments:

  1. This looks completely fascinating. I'd never heard of this book, but it's on my list now. Thank you!

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  2. I loved this book! On the outside it seemed a simple story, but it was so much more than that. And the development of the affection between the housekeeper, her son, and the professor was so heartfelt!

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  3. This is a great to book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 that begins July 30 and the Lost in Translation Challenge that is ongoing this year.

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  4. Wow- how extremely different! I'm definitely intrigued by this book. Thanks:)

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  5. A short 5 star book? Sounds wonderful! Going on my list.

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  6. sounds absolutely wonderful!

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  7. I LOVED this books as well. I also like Frida Kahlo a lot too!

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  8. 5 stars? Wow! I'll have to look into this one. Great review!

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  9. sounds like a great story. Thanks!

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  10. Oh I've been wanting to read this book myself but haven't yet found a copy. Thanks for the review Harvee!

    I'm much more into literary fiction than genre fiction. I even enjoy stories that seem to have no clear plot so long as its of good literary quality. And when you mentioned that its short, I got even more interested now (since I only have so little time for books).

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  11. Mark David: I was lucky enough to find the book at my local library, part of the Library Loot I blogged about two weeks or so ago! This is only the second book in the lot that I've been able to read, so far. Time is precious!

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  12. The Westport (CT) Public Library has selected The Housekeeper and the Professor for its 2010 townwide read for all the reasons you described. An amazing 180 pages of reading.

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  13. I'm so like the professor, in hating crowds, not in being a mathematician! This book was really a joy to read, so simple, so eloquent, so going-to-stay-with-me. I'm glad that our book club chose it as a selection this year, and that all of you in the challenge convinced me to read it.

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  14. Hello everyone: I'm glad you liked the review for the challenge and that it made you a interested!

    Maxine: that is awesome!

    Bellezza: I loved its simplicity also.

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  15. :) I love the way the math played into the story, but, like you, I was glad I didn't really have to understand it!

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  16. Great quote! Reminds me of how he writes in the sand under a bench to explain some calculation :) A fond memory to keep ;)

    I've only just read it for the JapLit book group.

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  17. Sorry I didn't get around to leaving a comment earlier. Thanks for joining in the Japanese Literature Book Group discussion of this.

    I'm terrible at math but I loved how this story actually made me see the beauty of it. :)

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  18. I must be among the last book bloggers to read this book-I just completed it yesterday and really enjoyed it-

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  19. Thought I'd check out your review, to return the favour, I like the point about names in fiction & the lack ( apart from root )of them in the book. It is a reaaly good short read & one I enjoyed a lot

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