Monday, 16 August 2010

Review: The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa


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  • Genre: Japanese Literature
  • Published: 2003 (in original Japanese)
  • Pages: 180


He is a mathematical genius who only has an eighty minute memory. She is a kind, caring and young woman who comes to be his Housekeeper. He forgets who she is after eighty minutes, but they communicate and build a beautiful friendship through the eloquence of numbers and equations.

How can I possibly put this book into my own words? I can’t begin to imagine I could capture or convey to any of you, how this book made me feel. It took me two days to read and I wish I could have taken more time to read it – but I simply couldn’t put it down. The pages seemed to turn themselves and I didn’t really feel like I was reading at all.

This book moved me. It is a small ripple that travels a long way across calm waters. It is nothing ground shaking, nothing that makes you tumble and dive – but something that makes a certain small, but important part of you shift inside.

It is on the surface a simple story about a friendship that grows in an unlikely place. I love these kinds of stories – in books or films, because though they are simple, they can mean a lot to you and touch you very deeply.

It is told in first person and none of the characters are referred to by their names. Even the Housekeeper’s son is given a name other then his own. The Professor is obsessed with maths – it is all he has left to him. The Housekeeper has to re-introduce herself to him every eighty minutes. They make a friendship through the connections between themselves and numbers.

You do not have to know anything about maths to enjoy this book – although it did bring back some vague memories from maths lessons at school. I used to think maths as boring, and rather frustrating perhaps because I could never appreciate maths for itself. The Housekeeper herself is ignorant about maths, but when she met the Professor she expressed an interest and start to learn through the Professor.

I loved this book – it touched me deeply and I’m going to be hunting down more of Yoko Ogawa’s books from now on. Hotel Iris is next on my list but unfortunately there is this thing called a book ban and I’m on it until I can fit more books into my bookshelf.

I am taking part in Dolce Bellazza’s Japanese Reading Challenge and this is my first book, yipee! I know I’m a late starter but finally I have my foot in!


  1. This is one of my favorite books this year. I loved how unique it was!

  2. The way you described this book is how I felt about Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Isn't it interesting how enjoyable these subtle books can be?

  3. Hey Fiona, I'm new to your blog. I just picked you up with the start of Wallace's Book Swap. Judging from what I have seen so far, I think The Book Coop is going to quickly become a favorite of mine. I am already adding titles from your blog to my TBBought List. You have a wonderful thing going on here. I'm glad I've discovered your little corner of the internet.


  4. Wow, what a rave review! I've been nervous to read this, as I always am with books I'd have to read in translation, even though the plot sounds wonderful and I've heard very very good things.

  5. I get a bit nervous with translations too, Jenny. In the end it's a lot down to the translator and how much do you know they've changed?

    Unfortunately I don't know Japanese and unlikely to learn so I guess I'm just going to have to trust the translator.

    I really did enjoy the writing - it was simple, but in a beautiful, perfectly balanced way.

    Wallace, I keep hearing about this Pettigrew book. I should look it up - I don't think I ever have for some reason.

    Christine, I'm glad you enjoyed it as well - it really is simply beautiful. I can't wait to read Hotel Iris... unfortunately I've got myself into this ban...

  6. What a lovely review...I tend to shy away from translations, but your review makes me want to find this one. Love the header on your blog :)



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