The Housekeeper And The Professor

housekeeper large

Title: The Housekeeper and The Professor
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Publisher: Picador, 2009 (for English translation)
Number of pages: 180
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

How is family defined? Certainly not in the tradition of Dick and Jane stories that were in all of my 1960’s Readers for elementary school: mom at home, father returning from work with his hat, every one cheerfully greeting him to a clean home and prepared dinner.  That would be nice, I suppose, if such a world existed. But, rarely can we define it as such.

I love how Ogawa pictures family in this book: a professor who only has 80 minutes of short term memory before he lapses back into forgetfulness; a housekeeper who is a single mother; her son, a boy nicknamed Root by the professor because the flat top of his head reminds the professor of a square root sign.

The professor resembles a sort of Ray Raynor: he clips notes to his suit, which he has written during his lucid moments, in order to remind himself of what has transpired in his life. Every day when the housekeeper comes to his door, he points to a drawing of her clipped on his suit to remind himself who she is.

How unlikely it is, then that these three make a family. And, make a family they do. It is quite obvious that no one loves Root as much as his mother, or the professor. The two of them share a passion for baseball, and the professor teaches Root (and his mother) a certain passion for numbers.

We are able to live with this family for a short time, as Ogawa tells us of their simple lives; those that are filled with beauty and heartache, but above all, love for one another.

26 thoughts on “The Housekeeper And The Professor

  1. I loved this book too! The idea of family was so sweetly demonstrated. I loved the use of math as well. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year, I've been passing it around to everyone I know.


  2. Oh, the professor breaks my heart, with all of those notes clipped to himself; clearly, he had a sense of humor in the way he named Root. What a bittersweet story. I will look for it.


  3. I am a bit repulsed by the idea of Math being introduced to any kind of fiction. I can still remember the horrid days of Math class. My heart still skips beats. Anyway I do find this novel sweetly awkward and as we all now I am a major fan of awkwardness. At the same time Japanese excell at being unconventional and cross borders, which other cultures might now exist. 🙂 Great choice. PS: I do have an eye for beautiful designs. Thanks for the commentary and hope you win. 🙂


  4. I checked this out from the library a few months ago, but as I loved the first pages so much I returned it, so I can get my own copy! I'll be reading it for your challenge, too. And I love math, it was my favourite subject in school, and the one in which I got the highest grades for. I haven't read about math in fiction before so this is really exciting. 😀


  5. I'm intrigued by the comments relating to Math in this post. I, personally, have a terrible time with Math, and Algebra 2 kept my son from graduating on time. Well, actually, he kept himself from graduating by failing it twice. Anyway, it's not often as a teacher that I come across students who love reading (as we do) and also love Math. So, Claire and raidergirl 3, my hat's off to you! Boy, do I wish you could have been tutoring in this house last year!One can't escape the lovely qualities of this book. It is just so endearing! And, as many of you mentioned, I'll probably buy a copy for myself because it's worth having on one's shelf. Not the library shelf.


  6. Maxine, I can see it would be a wonderful choice for a town to read together. Such a community builder! It reminded me of the movie Up in some ways: the old man and the little boy sticking together and helping one another. That's a lesson that can't be, and too often is, forgotten.


  7. What a wonderful review! When I read this book months ago I thought how beautifully simple the story was. I felt such a range of emotions from such a simple story and was amazed.Suzanne


  8. Suzanne, it is such a simple story with such a compelling range of emotions. It takes a true writer to be able to do that.3M, it's the first book by Ogawa I've read, and I'll join you in looking for more of her works. I'd give it a 5/5 as well.


  9. I have her 'The Diving Pool' that I'm hoping to get to sometime in the next few months. I've heard nothing but great things about this title though so I'm sure I'll be picking it up too at some point.


  10. This is my next read for the challenge and for my pleasure. I am glad I bought this book now that i read your review. Yes, family can be made up of many number of people not blood related to us, as long as love, trust, affection binds us.Have a wonderful week-end my friendxoxSylvie Madeleine


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