Intro to Mathematics 101: The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the ProfessorThe Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

I have been incredibly busy in January – even busier than I was in December – but have luckily found time to review this short novel in time for it to count towards the Japanese Reading Challenge, and with one day to spare!

A young housekeeper is sent to look after an old maths professor with a peculiar problem: due to an accident his working memory only lasts 80 minutes. Every morning the Housekeeper and the Professor become reacquainted. Although the professor can only remember eloquent maths formulas, a bond forms between the two.

First Impressions: When I flipped through the novel I saw a few mathematical formula scattered here and there so I worried that perhaps too much of the text would be over my head. Not true! The novel wasn’t as sentimental as I feared either. Ogawa writes with the detached style typical of Japanese authors.

Highlights: Much to my surprise I loved the mathematical musings and found myself trying to work out the problems before the answer was revealed! I felt the same about the many references to baseball teams and statistics, which I was not expecting. I found the Housekeeper’s backstory to be really interesting and would have loved more of this to be included.

If I was an editor: I would find it hard to think of a way to improve this story. More intrigue is always encouraged. Much to my relief it wasn’t overly sentimental and neither was the ending predictable. I do now realise I approached the story expecting (fearing?) a European narrative.

Overall: A great example of Japanese fiction for western readers. A touching way to wrap up my Japanese Literature Challenge.

The Housekeeper and the Professor: 4 stars