If you’re part of the book club on this blog you might have picked up on December’s selection already and heard some of my thoughts regarding the subject material. But here, you can get the nice, succinct review of Ogawa’s novel: The Housekeeper and the Professor.
The book follows a housekeeper through her duties to a man we come to know, and lovingly refer to, as the Professor. His case is a sad one as his memory only lasts for 80 minutes leaving us privy to the poor suits he wears which are always covered by notes. Each note is supposed to remind him of something important- the first, and most important, being the one that states “my memory lasts eighty minutes”.
The housekeeper knows of this when she accepts the job from the man’s sister in law and is greeted every morning by a man who asks her what her shoe size is, what size she was when she was born and other number based questions so he might put himself at ease. While his memory does fail throughout the story the richness of detail put into a relationship which is always fresh for one member of it is beautiful. I can’t say it’s a tale of great emotion, it did not make me weep or any other such thing, but it did warm me, touch me and made me feel grateful for being privy to the relationship between the protagonists.
That the professor, throughout the story, gets to know the housekeeper (he draws a pictuer of her on a note about the housekeeper) and her son (he calls the child “Root” because he has a flat head like the square root sign) and winds up having a family or, as the housekeeper puts it- his first real friends. There is love between them. A caring which goes beyond so many foundations of which we with regular memories take for granted and which begs the question: On which ground, in what realm do we first know love? How does one experience it if one has not the memory to recall it? Does that person at all?
I don’t think Ogawa answered some of those questions but she does challenge, in my opinion anyway, our precepts of love. It’s truly a remarkable tale which, in some odd way, has managed to make me hold numbers and mathematics in some degree of reverence. If I had one recommendation about this book, should you read it yourself, it would be to not get caught up on the math problems. They’re fun, interesting and somewhat of a challenge for those of us not so mathematically inclined.
It’s not one of my favorite novels but it is a delightful read and surely an amazingly translated novel.