Don’t let the math scare you.

The Housekeeper and the Professor: A NovelThe Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa

A beautifully written book. It’s quiet, subtle and possesses a certain wistfulness that is common to a lot of modern Japanese lit. Also common to a lot of Japanese lit: a bittersweet element relating to a relationship that goes unfulfilled in some way. In this case, doubly unfulfilled: unrequited love, and a man who cannot remember those who love him like family.

Ogawa gets credit for managing to successfully write a novel about a man whose memory only lasts for 80 minutes — how does he build relationships if he cannot remember anyone from a few hours before? And I give her credit for writing a novel about math. Explanations of formulas and theorems and so on as part of fiction might turn some people off. I’ve certainly never read a novel with explanations of mathematics included (and if you asked me, I would say I’d never want to) but Ogawa makes it work.

I will say that I liked Ogawa’s collection of novellas, The Diving Pool, slightly better than this book. There was a quirkiness to those stories that was absent here. But I suspect many readers will have the opposite response.

View all my reviews on goodreads.

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