The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa
“How much did you weigh at birth?”
“What is your shoe size?”
With these awkward questions, the Professor welcomes his new housekeeper each morning. Yes, she is new everyday because the professor forgets all the day’s happenings by the next morning. His memory lasts only 80 minutes.
The Housekeeper and the Professor is a beautifully crafted piece of art by Japanese author Yoko Ogawa. Carefully preserved behind a glass frame, just as the Professor’s memories are stored away meticulously in a cookie tin box. It paints a beautiful picture of a run-down cottage where the old Maths Professor has been living alone for years. Now he has the houskeeper and her 10 year old son, fondly named Root, for company.
In the stillness and simplicity of the life they share, the three develop a uniquely beautiful bond, one that lasts till death. The Professor’s unmistakable love for Maths is shared by the other two, so is the love for baseball, which brings them all together, as they sit huddled around a radio, listening to the Tigers’ game. The Professor has a special affection for Root, and he squirms in panic if the child gets even as much as a little cut on his finger. Root, for his part, is extremely loving and patient towards the Professor, and wouldn’t stand anything that might upset the sensitive man. They are like a virtual family when they eat together, go to a baseball game together and celebrate birthdays together. The Professor may be robbed of his memory, which is still stuck in 1975 after a car accident, but he is abundant in affection, humility and gratitude.
If you are a Mathematics lover, the book has several interesting relationships of numbers, which the Professor explains with utmost love, leaving the listener and the reader awed. The Euler’s equation holds a special significance in the story, and so do the prime numbers.
“I remember when he taught us about the spell cast by placing numbers under this square root sign. It was a rainy evening in early April. My son’s schoolbag lay abandoned on the rug. The light in the Professor’s study was dim. Outside the window, the blossoms on the apricot tree were heavy with rain”, the housekeeper reminisces. “The Professor never really seemed to care whether we figured out the right answer to a problem. He preferred our wild, desperate guesses to silence, and he was even more delighted when those guesses led to new problems that took us beyond the original one.”
The book was originally published in Japan in 2003, selling more than 2.5 million copies and garnering the prestigious Yomiuri Prize. The title is often literally translated as The Professor and His Beloved Equation.
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