Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Housekeeper and the Professor

A few weeks ago I wrote about a math column where a book called The Housekeeper and the Professor (Picador, 2009) was recommended.  Just finished reading it and I have to say that it's a very enjoyable little book.  It's the only novel I've ever read that features number theory as a plot element.

The story is set in in Japan in the 1990s and features a brilliant math professor who suffered a traumatic head injury in 1975 and, as a result, can't remember anything for more than a short time since then (his memory is like a looping tape that erases every 80 minutes).  A single-mother housekeeper and her latchkey kid form an unlikely bond with the professor despite their very different backgrounds.  The beauty of number theory (and a love of Japanese baseball) is a central theme throughout the book.

One interesting part of this book is that the characters are never given proper names - the Professor, the housekeeper (who narrates the story), and Root (her son, nicknamed because his flat-topped haircut reminded the professor of a square root sign).  You never really notice.  The book is an easy read - the language is lean and flows well - but leaves you thinking about it for a long time afterward.  The author, Yoko Ogawa, is an award-winning Japanese writer but a lot of credit must also go to Stephen Snyder who beautifully translated this book into English.

Don't let a fear of math or disinterest in baseball keep you from this book.  While I'm interested in math, I know nothing about baseball (let alone Japanese baseball), but the real story in this book is the relationships between everyone in this unlikely ad hoc family.  Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment