The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa

“The pages and pages of complex, impenetrable calculations might have contained the secrets of the universe, copied out of God’s notebook. In my imagination, I saw the creator of the universe sitting in some distant corner of the sky, weaving a pattern of delicate lace so fine that that even the faintest light would shine through it. The lace stretches out infinitely in every direction, billowing gently in the cosmic breeze. You want desperately to touch it, hold it up to the light, rub it against your cheek. And all we ask is to be able to re-create the pattern, weave it again with numbers, somehow, in our own language; to make the tiniest fragment our own, to bring it back to earth.”

The Housekeeper and the Professor is quietly beautiful book about love, family and memory. The Professor is a brilliant mathematician who hurt his head in a car accident in 1975 and cannot generate new memories for longer than 80 minutes. The Housekeeper works for a housekeeping agency and one day she is assigned to his home to clean and cook for him. This is where their story begins.

The Professor finds comfort and stability in numbers and introduces The Housekeeper and eventually, her son, to the world of math he loves so much. Everyday when the Housekeeper arrives he asks her shoe size, birth weight or telephone number, trying to connect to her through the numbers in her life. He nicknames her son ‘Root’ because the shape of his head reminds him of a square root. They begin to bond through mathematical problems and the numbers that the professor shows them in everything they do. Despite the fact that the Professor can only remember 80 minutes, they begin to care for each other and become an unexpected kind of family.

The writing itself is straightforward but elegant. We are introduced to a lot of beauty in our everyday world through mathematical concepts and begin to see it a little differently thanks to the Professor.

Solving a problem for which you know there’s an answer is like climbing a mountain with a guide, along a trail someone else has laid. In mathematics, the truth is somewhere out there in a place no one knows, beyond all the beaten paths. And it’s not always at the top of the mountain. It might be in a crack on the smoothest cliff or somewhere deep in the valley.

I loved this book and I know it’ll sit on my shelves for years to come. The style is similar to Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing. Quiet, calm, sweet and so lovely it almost seems like reading memories from a day you treasured in your past. Everyday moments are written with the utmost care and importance. This book isn’t any grand adventure or murder mystery that will keep you awake at night. It’s better.

It’s a simple, beautiful book about the most important aspect of our lives, finding those that are meant to be a part of it.

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