Friday, January 11, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

I never would have heard of The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa except that it was on the list of Favorite Book Club Books on Anne’s blog–My Head is Full of Books. Her capsule review intrigued me, and my library had the book, so I’m starting off my library challenge (hosted by Book Dragon’s Lair) with this little gem.

The novel is quite short. I picked it up after work and read it in a couple of hours. The protagonist is a housekeeper, a single mother of a ten-year-old boy, struggling to make ends meet. She is assigned to a new job, keeping house for a middle-aged, one-time college professor with brain trauma. A car accident many years early has left him with only 80 minutes of short term memory. Nevertheless, the Professor has retained his fascination with numbers, facility with complex mathematics, and love of teaching. Each day, the housekeeper reintroduces herself to him and they begin their relationship anew. The Professor finds common ground by relating personal things (birthday, shoe size) to numbers and formulas. While this oddity has driven away nine previous housekeepers, this particular young woman is intrigued and challenged.

The relationship deepens when the Professor discovers (and rediscovers) the existence of the housekeeper’s son. He nicknames him Root because the flat shape of his head reminds him of a square root sign. Root thrives under the attentiveness and caring of this strange father figure, but he also matures as he learns how to be protective of a person who must live with the terrible knowledge that he will not remember anything he is experiencing.

The story is beautifully poignant. While terrifying to imagine a life where one has only 80 minutes of memory, the Professor’s ability to find joy and beauty in mathematics and the ability of the housekeeper and her son to build a lasting friendship out of 80 minute vignettes, demonstrates how much life can be lived in the moment.

I didn’t read it for a book club, but I can see how it would be a great book club pick!