The Housekeeper and the Professor (2003, trans. 2009) is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read both inside and out. On the cover, cherry blossoms blow across a deep blue sky where mathematical symbols float like clouds. The philosophical premise features a retired professor of mathematics who retains only 80 minutes of short-term memory along with his past. Every day, his housekeeper and her young son must start over fresh with him, and yet their relationship deepens over time, as does their appreciation for the elegance of mathematics.
About the professor: “He preferred smart questions to smart answers.”Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. The reader feels as trapped as the victim by her charismatic antagonist.
From Hotel Iris: “The discarded foil from an ice cream cone that yesterday glittered festively by the side of the road overnight would become no more than a piece of trash.”What makes Ogawa’s novels different from contemporary Western fiction is the degree to which the protagonist accepts fate without question and simply tries to make the best of it. In Japanese fiction, there is typically an appreciation of simple beauty, a respect for family, a sense of duty and nostalgia for the past. The story moves at a more languid pace, engaging all the senses and challenging the mind to understand the subtle nuances. Ogawa’s books are not page-turners, but you will savor every page. Not a word is out of place. Yoko Ogawa is also one of my Japanese sister-in-law’s favorite authors.
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Disclosure: I read Stephen Snyder’s translations and bought both books at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine without compensation. I’ve given several copies of The Housekeeper and the Professor as gifts.
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