The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

yoko ogawa

Good things come in small packages and The Housekeeper and the Professor is a perfect example. A wonderful short novel with a great deal of depth. It is a beautiful and touching story about a brilliant Mathematics professor, an unnamed housekeeper (the  narrator) and her son whom the professor called Root for having a flat head like the square root sign.

Yoko Ogawa’s writing style is refreshing. She carefully choose the words to explain several mathematical concepts in an easy story-telling format but to a great effect. It will make anyone enjoy reading even if Math isn’t your thing. And while Math plays a large part in the story, baseball did, too. Root and the professor shared a passion for baseball for different reasons.

Much is unsaid in this little gem of a story, leaving the readers to ponder after reading and personally in a beautifully satisfying way. The relationship between the professor, the housekeeper and Root is so realistic and touching.

With wonderful writing and themes on finding mathematical and personal connections between unlikely people, don’t let the Maths put you off reading this book.

Quotable Quotes:

“A problem isn’t finished just because you’ve found the right answer.”

“The Professor never really seemed to care whether we figured out the right answer to a problem. He preferred our wild, desperate guesses to silence, and he was even more delighted when those guesses led to new problems that took us beyond the original one. He had a special feeling for what he called the “correct miscalculation,” for he believed that mistakes were often as revealing as the right answers.”

“The truly correct proof is one that strikes a harmonious balance between strength and flexibility. There are plenty of proofs that are technically correct but are messy and inelegant or counterintuitive. But it’s not something you can put into words — explaining why a formula is beautiful is like trying to explain why the stars are beautiful.”

“Solving a problem for which you know there’s an answer is like climbing a mountain with a guide, along a trail someone else has laid. In mathematics, the truth is somewhere out there in a place no one knows, beyond all the beaten paths. And it’s not always at the top of the mountain. It might be in a crack on the smoothest cliff or somewhere deep in the valley.”

“The room was filled with a kind of stillness. Not simply an absence of noise, but an accumulation of layers of silence.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

Quote of the Week

Your first kiss isn’t as important as your last. The math test really didn’t matter. The pie really did. The stuff you’re good at and the stuff you’re bad at are just different parts of the same thing. Same goes for the people you love and the people you don’t—and the people who love you and the people who don’t. The only thing that mattered was that you cared about a few people. Life is really, really short.

-Ethan Wate