If I remember correctly, I first stumbled (rather, fell head first) into Japanese literature on one of the many long haul flights that were a temporary part of my life when I was a post graduate student in Manchester. It was Murakami that I first read (no surprises there!) and thus began my love affair with Japanese literature, which I fondly call the gift that keeps giving.
When choosing the next prompt under the RWC, I saw ‘A Book by Yoko Ogawa’, under ‘bonus prompts’ and knew I had to fast forward straight to it.
Reviewed by many (super trustworthy) book buddies as a serene and sublime piece of work, I had no qualms about picking up ‘The Housekeeper and The Professor’.
With a fairly straightforward premise and only a handful of characters, the book introduces us to the Housekeeper – a devoted mother of a 10 year old son who has just agreed to work for The Professor – brilliant at Maths but with a devastatingly short term memory. Thus begins a relationship that doesn’t necessarily fall within the pre-defined notions of society but is nevertheless loving, enduring and caring.
Each morning, the Housekeeper introduces herself anew to the Professor, and gradually The Professor works out elegant mathematical equations not only to remember her and her son, but also show them the beauty of mathematics and how maths proves that we are all naturally connected despite being seemingly unrelated.
He would ask my shoe size or telephone number, or perhaps my zip code, the registration number on my bicycle, or the number of brushstrokes in the characters of my name; and whatever the number, he invariably found some significance in it.
What I loved
The study smelled of books. Half the windows were covered by bookshelves, and piles of books drifted up the walls.
Ogawa weaves magic with her words and transports the reader straight to the gentle world of the Professor in his little cottage. One can almost feel present in the moment as the professor and the housekeeper are engrossed in their quiet conversations about prime numbers and theorems whilst the rain falls and dinner sizzles away on the stove.
And yet, the room was filled by a kind of stillness. Not simply an absence of noise, but an accumulation of layers of silence, untouched by fallen hair or mold, silence that the Professor left behind as he wandered through the numbers, silence like a clear lake hidden in the depths of the forest.
What I struggled with
The many in-depth discussions on mathematical equations and baseball – neither of which are my forte and unfortunately as they both are very integral to the plot of the book, I felt as if i couldn’t properly get immersed in the book.
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Housekeeper and The Professor (which was also incidentally my first one by Yoko Ogawa). Particularly the subtlety of the relationship between the professor, the housekeeper and her son (lovingly named Root) – it is tender, loving, affectionate and cannot be defined (or confined) by the normal conventions of the society.
It explores the theme of the natural connection which exists between two seemingly unconnected / unrelated people. I have been wanting to read Ogawa for the longest and although this book seemed a little bit of an anti-climatic start, I am keen to explore her other works.
He had discovered the natural connection between numbers that seemed completely unrelated.
In 2006 The Housekeeper and the Professor was adapted into a movie (Japanese with subtitles). While I haven’t yet managed to see it myself, I found a clip (below) that looks very promising 🙂
Reading Women Challenge – Prompts Completed 11/24
- A book with a rural setting
- A book with a cover designed by a woman
- A fantasy novel by an Asian author
- A book by a neurodivergent author
- Reread a favourite
- Protagonist older than 50
- Young Adult Novel by a Latinx author
- A book longlisted for the JCB prize
- A non-fiction book about social justice
- A book by an Arab author in translation
- A book by Yoko Ogawa
Cover image courtesy: amazon.co.uk