The Housekeeper and the Professor

I am only halfway through the book and, while enjoying the read, am finding myself caught up on working my way through the math problems.  Anyone else have that problem?

What observations do you have regarding the style of writing?  The characters?

The following questions I have taken from the back of the book while making a few very subtle changes to them- note I am not posting all of them as I really have no inclination toward rushing headlong to reveal the ending before we get there.

1. The characters in The Housekeeper and the Professor are nameless (Root is only a nickname).  What does it mean when an author chooses not to name the people in her book?  How does that change your relationship to them as a reader?

4. The Professor tells the Housekeeper: “Math has proven the existence of God because it is absolute and without contradiction; but the devil ust exist as well, because we cannot prove it.”  Does this paradox apply to anything else?

5. The Housekeeper’s father abandoned her mother before she was born; and then the Housekeeper herself suffered the same fate when pregnant with Root.  In a book where all of the families are broken (including the Professor’s). what do you think Ogawa is saying about how families are composed?

7. The sum of all numbers between 1 and 10 is not difficult to figure out, but the Professor insists that Root find the answer in a particular way.  Ultimately Root and the Housekeeper come to the answer together.  Is there a thematic importance to their method of solving the problem?  Generally, how does Ogawa use math to illustrate a whole worldview?

Okay- that should get us started!  When this blog posts I’ll comment on one or two of the questions in the comment section and will do my best to keep up with our online discourse through out the week!  By posting questions and discussions in such a way they will always be available so you can go back, read through it and contribute!

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3 responses to “The Housekeeper and the Professor

  • kimberlyloomis

    Family, and the notion of it, has always intrigued me. (Yeah, I’m thinking of question number five!) I think Ogawa, through her approach is trying to address the idea of family as community. Not necessarily the neighborhood in which you reside in, but the context we decide to live our lives through. To be born into a circumstance is something we all have to address; for some this means no father, mother, both or simply a lack of “extended” family. But what I love about this is the willingness and, indeed, the sheer serendipity which sometimes occurs when we find family whom we are not related to. Community is experienced and a tribe-like environment can be created to the benefit of all even if this means we are not related by blood. Those bonds which we choose to make can form perhaps deeper and more long lasting connections than perhaps some of those foisted upon us by mere birthright.

    Just my $.02. Thoughts?

  • Heather

    I finished and enjoyed the book; I recommended it to my Math loving husband. It was a much easier read and one of the best translated books I’ve read next to “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”/

    Was it a problem that no names were given to the main characters in the book? To be honest, I didn’t even realize it until it was brought to my attention. I managed to get immersed in the story and the math problems, not dwell on the detail that I didn’t know Root’s mother’s first name.

    Re: family…I think if you can find a place where you feel you contribute, are loved and valued, then that is your family. And the housekeeper felt that way with the Professor. Sure, it’s nice to have a blood line live on, and she has that with her son Root, but for some people I think they just want to belong somewhere.I heard a quote in “Bones” last week: “90% of family gets under your skin, that’s why you have friends!” I think it’s true, and I do consider some of my friends as family.

    I think in the math problem that Root and his mother were trying to solve was a way that Ogawa was showing us it’s okay to think outside the box. That one way of doing something isn’t always the ONLY correct way! A worldview of Math…I think just the fact that we read a book written in a country and language other than English and could understand (somewhat) of the Math, the beauty and logic of it, shows that Math is a worldwide language! (Granted, I had NO idea how else to find that sum but then, I’m not good at math!)

    As for the paradox…I’m going to ponder that one some more. I’ll get back to you when I have an answer!

    • kimberlyloomis

      I love that quote from “Bones”- I just might have to start watching that one…

      I, too, finished the book- just last night as a matter of fact! Incidentally I have one more book to read before getting to “Elegance of the Hedgehog” so I’m glad to hear it’s a good translation.

      RE: The Housekeeper and the Professor- It was a good book. I enjoyed a book which felt no compulsion for being witty, sarcastic or any other such typical tags in fiction these days (btw- I’m not against them, it’s just done A LOT). The names I did notice but, in truth, it’s not like there’s no name or title to grasp on to. I suppose the titles did lend an interesting bent to the story, however, in that we have a woman in a servant role who is so readily relied upon and welcomed. She, for all intents and purposes, goes beyond the scope of what one might typically read regarding the equivalent of a maid. As does the professor.

      As for the paradox: I’m unsure of this. Mostly because I question math being absolute (I totally look forward to reading what Kelly has to say there)- but I really don’t know it well enough to question the premise from a foundation of concrete knowledge on the subject. 😉 I don’t KNOW God exists, I don’t know the devil exists- what I do know is both require a certain amount of faith and, while Ogawa makes a case for it, I’m not given over to this notion.

      I love what you said about the math problem, Heather. Very succinct and, I think, very accurate. She makes Math into something beyond a dreaded subject (which it is for so many people) and makes it sing like a foreign language- which, truly, for many of us it is. It’s also good to remember it is a language. Symbols, words- they have specific meanings to be used in specific ways. Heck, it even has its own grammar structure! I had completely forgotten about all of that until reading Ogawa’s prose.

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