Sunday, August 22, 2010


One of the things that seems to have gotten harder over the years is pleasure reading. In a way that is odd since I work as a librarian you'd think I read all the time. Well I do, but only in a professional capacity. I try to read at least four or five juvenile novels a year so that I have some idea what middle-school and high school students are reading. That means that I seldom read anything that I appreciate as an adult. Most  of the books read are written for students aged from about 10 to 17 and while they are sometimes very good indeed, most of the time they are are not very good at all.I don't count those because I am reading them as part of my job. I don't have a great deal of time to simply read something because I want too.

I ran into an exception this week. I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.I read it because it is a book that is read by the high school students in the school where I work in the 11th grade.

I was absolutely stunned by this book and it will haunt my thinking for weeks to come. I am sure I will read it again. It is a lovely book.

Like all really good books it is utterly unbelievable.  I think that is why the book works so well. While the themes and ideas presented are simply stunning; generally speaking only talking animal books, Watership Down, The Book of the Dunn Cow or The Wind in the Willows can deal with subjects in the way this book does because we know humans too well to talk like this. In a normal novel the professor would be contrived or corny and he isn't in this book.

The basic plot of the book is that a 28 year-old, unmarried mother who is the daughter of an unmarried mother is sent to work as a housekeeper for a retired professor of mathematics, a genius, who has only 80 minutes of short term memory because of brain damage in an automobile accident many years before. After 80 minutes he forgets everything and everybody. The professor can remember everything in his life until 1977 but has to write note to himself for important things in order to live. He does not remember the housekeeper from day to day; or even from morning until after lunch.  The housekeeper has to struggle to find ways to deal with this most eccentric of old men. In the process she becomes his friend and he becomes something of a father figure to her son. And yet, because he cannot remember them from day to day cannot return their affection.

Something that I found especially odd about this book is that only one of the main characters is named and he never speaks. A main character in the book is a famous Japanese baseball player Enatsu, who was a favorite of the professor before the accident. The housekeeper's young son is always referred to by the nick-name the professor gives him "Root" never his real name. You never find out the name of the housekeeper, the professor, Root, the professors widowed sister-in-law or any of the other people in the book. In a sense that helps the reader to internalize this book and makes it more personal. It is just assumed that you know every-bodies name.
You'll learn a lot about math from this book and wish knew more.

You will also struggle to be thankful fort being able to wake up and know your name.

To say more would be to spoil the book for you.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a read that is more than simple entertainment.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who should really read more

1 comment:

Tiny said...

Thanks for reminding me this book. I saw it at the bookstore and found it very interesting. I was planning to borrow it from the library but I forgot the name later on. I just placed a hold on the library copy and hopefully it will be available soon.