Archive for May, 2009

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

“The Housekeeper and the Professor is a fairly charming, fairly simple story that is very nicely told. The mix of mathematics and domestic life is appealing and well done, and in describing a household of such mutual support Ogawa paints a touching picture. Ogawa also does well in not making it entirely idyllic.  A fine little entertainment.”

A fine little entertainment.  Hmmm.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially the manner in which the author moves math into mainstream western thought patterns.  After reading this book, I doubt I will think of numbers in the same way again.  I particularly like the discussion on pages 57 and 58 where the conversation of mathematics shifts from numbers to variables.  Even the most mathematically avoidant personality types will find difficulty in resisting the “ah hah” moment the author develops so cleverly on these two pages.

The review provides potential readers an overview of plot, characters and storyline.  The subtle nuances are left for the reader to discover. 

The post-its covering the Professor’s attire reflect the feelings of information overload so prevalent in society today.   The Housekeeper’s selfless service to a family greater than the sum of its parts provides guidance for everyday living.
I found the English translation effective especially during the baseball game passages.  The meals prepared by the Housekeeper in the Professor’s house appear a little too American, in the context of the story for my taste.  The meal criticism may appear trivial to some, though the paragraphs of text stayed with me long after concluding the book.

My favorite character is Root, the housekeeper’s son.  He represents the joy of youth and the promise of the future.  Yoko Ogawa has the Professor repeatedly patting Root on “his flat head.”  This behavior is replicated by other tangential characters as well.  I believe the author uses this behavior as a symbolic gesture reinforcing the importance of tending the roots of humanity.  Jonas Salk once said, “Good parents give their children Roots and Wings.”  “Roots,” termed by Salk and viewed by many,  as the strong foundation built on a sense of belonging to a family.  The tending of  Root reminds the reader to nurture the youthful generations as they provide the roots of humanity and nourishment for the future.

The Housekeeper and the Professor blends both the left and the right hemisphere of the reader’s brain while exposing life’s truths on a journey taken with an unconventional family.
“Precisely!” said the Professor.  His joy had little to do with the difficulty of the problem.  Simple or hard, the pleasure was in sharing it with us.

I highly recommend this book!