Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Housekeeper and the Professor By Yoko Ogawa

I've always been fascinated with the subject of memory. For years I taught children with learning disabilities and for or a number of those children short-term memory deficits were a stumbling block.

In this book Ogawa writes about a mathematics professor who, after a horrific car accident,has an abbreviated short-term memory—eighty minutes. His long term memory of events prior to his accident remains intact. But now every eighty minutes he begins anew. In order to remind himself of things he wishes to recall before the one hour and twenty minute curtain falls, he writes himself notes and pins the notes to his coat jacket.

A housekeeper is hired to help with meals and cleaning. The professor who had once been a successful teacher now enters mathematical contests.

After a number of housekeepers attempt the job and leave, one woman is found who remains. She's a single mother. The Professor pencils her name and what she does on a scrap of paper which he affixes to his coat.

A poignant relationship develops between the two which is enriched when the housekeeper has her son come over after his school day ends.

Their relationship is rooted in mathematics and the shared math is also shared with the reader. The professor's area of expertise is number theory.

There is a special bond between the young man, dubbed Root because his hair is flat on top like a square root, and the professor.

Everything is continually rediscovered even the housekeeper and her son.

Despite this there is a deep relationship and it lasts even when the professor's memory span becomes even shorter.

This is a book that makes the reader stop and think about memory, relationships, and love.

It's a quiet book—quite remarkable and beautifully written.

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