Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Housekeeper and the Professor

by Yoko Ogawa

Imagine the Professor, a retired mathematician suffering anterograde amnesia; and the Housekeeper, a young single mum with a ten-year-old son, whose job is to look after the Professor. He does not remember her from one day to the next. In fact, his memory lasts exactly eighty minutes.

This is a story of a wonderful friendship between the three, brought together by the paradox of memory, Euler’s formula and baseball.

A word of warning: in contrast to the math, the baseball terminology in this book is left largely unexplained.

Another word of warning: you may well want to cry in the end.
“I’m going to call you Root,” he said. “The square root sign is a generous symbol, it gives shelter to all the numbers.” And he quickly took off the note on his sleeve, and made the addition: “The new housekeeper... and her son, ten years old, . ”

At first I made us name tags, thinking that if the Professor weren’t the only one with notes clipped to him he might feel less anxious. I told my son to change his school name tag for one I made that read “”. The experiment proved less successful than I’d hoped. No matter how much time passed, I was always the young woman who made painfully slow progress with numbers, and my son would be the boy who simply appeared, and was embraced.
The Housekeeper and the Professor
P.S. The Housekeeper and the Professor is the first book of Yoko Ogawa I’ve ever read. I just learned that L’annulaire (The Ring Finger), the French movie that I saw couple of years ago, is based on her novel of the same name.

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