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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa – Friendship, Numbers and Memories

24th August, 2016

An unlikely friendship develops between a housekeeper, her employer, a Mathematics Professor who has a memory span of only eighty minutes  and her son. This book is Memento meets A Beautiful Mind kind of story.


This is a very short book that you can easily finish in a couple of hours. The story has three main characters – a Professor, his housekeeper and her son. The Professor has lost his memory in an accident in 1975 and his mind doesn’t register any new memories. He has a memory span of eighty minutes – “it’s as if he has a single, eighty-minute videotape inside his head, and when he records anything new, he has to record over the existing memories.


When the housekeeper is employed by the mysterious sister in law of the Professor, she isn’t sure if she can cope up with a man with such a memory issue. When she first meets the Professor he is clad in a suit with reminders stuck all over (including the fact that his memory lasts only eighty minutes). This reminded me of the Tamil movie, Ghajini and the original English version Memento. The professor forgets every new day that she is his employee. Every morning the housekeeper, who narrates the story, has to introduce herself and her son to the professor all over again as well as answer his awkward questions asking her shoe size or phone number to be let in.

The house keeper finds the Professor’s ways fascinating rather than annoying. Soon enough he becomes friends with her son whom he calls ‘Root’ as his head is shaped like a square root. There on we see two different kinds of friendships, one between two adults and the other between an adult (with memory loss) and a child. I admire Ogawa’s ability to show the fine differences between both of the connections.


I am not a die-hard fan of Mathematics but I loved the way Maths was dealt with in the book. Numbers flow like a stream throughout the book. For the Professor numbers are a familiar territory where he feels safe. He tried to define connections between everything in daily life to numbers. The housekeeper on the other hand is not the best at number solving. She symbolizes the influence of persistence and interest while exploring an unknown territory. I loved to see how the different approaches towards the subject are told in a lucid fashion. You might hate Maths, but Ogawa makes you fit right in the world of amicable and perfect numbers.


So you ask, what happens then? Well, nothing happens. This is a book which does not have any huge revelations anywhere in the plot. Yet there is something about the writing that doesn’t leave you bored even for a minute and makes you connect with the characters almost immediately. It was only by the end of the book that I realized that the names of the Professor and the housekeeper are not mentioned. I found this strangely satisfying. The book doesn’t give you definitive answers, but makes you feel happy.


I would recommend the book if you enjoy plots that are feel-good yet tug your heart strings somewhere. It is a glimpse into a most unlikely friendship and in my opinion one that leaves you content  when you close the book.


Title : The Housekeeper and the Professor
Author : Yoko Ogawa; Translated by : Stephen Snyder (from Japanese)
Publisher : Vintage
Published : 2010 (Originally 2003)
Language : English
Pages : 180
Rating : 4/5

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Have you read The Housekeeper and the Professor? Or do you have a suggestion for an Ogawa novel for me to try out?

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The Housekeeper + The Professor

About the Author

Yoko Ogawa is a Japanese writer. She has published more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction. In 2006 she co-authored “An Introduction to the World’s Most Elegant Mathematics” with Masahiko Fujiwara, a mathematician, as a dialogue on the extraordinary beauty of numbers. Her novel The Housekeeper and the Professor was made into the movie The Professor’s Beloved Equation.

This Post Has 20 Comments
  1. I was excited just seeing Ogawa’s name on the cover in your photo! I loved this book, and I loved her other books even more. This one is definitely the most pleasant; the others are quite a bit darker, Hotel Iris in particular. But her writing is just excellent.

  2. I LOVED this book and the only math I ever liked was the Phantom Toolbooth. I loved the story. I did read the story The Diving Pool (the first in the book of that title) but it wasn’t anything like the Housekeeper, sadly.

  3. I read and very much loved this book a few years ago. So glad to see it reviewed here, didn’t seem to get a lot of attention among the bloggers I follow. I would read anything she writes. I didn’t know the book had been made into a movie.

  4. I adored this book Resh. The simplicity of the story and genius of the writing. I even googled prime numbers and math is so not my thing. When I first read this I went out and bought multiple copies for my family. It’s a beautiful book with pride of place on my bookcase.

  5. You’re back!! 🙂

    Ok, does the “professor” actually have a job teaching or is that just a formality that they use? I can’t imagine it’d be easy for someone with such a short memory span to teach a course! Then again, many university classes are shorter than 80 minutes, but it just sounds very impractical.
    How strange and amusing that the characters’ names weren’t revealed and that you didn’t realize it until the end!
    It sounds like a delightfully read for cozy afternoon.

    1. I am glad to be back too. I was thinking I am a superwoman and can revive Insta and blogs and blog hop on a single Monday. Well, well It has taken quite some time and the blog hop part is remaining as well. Lesson for me to keep drafts. I might go on vacation in Sept so I definitely need to plan ahead for that.

      The Prof doesnt teach now. He was a brilliant person before the accident. He as retained his love for numbers and theories. But what he cant remember are new people he is introduced to, new memories, what he ate last night etc

  6. Books that leave me feeling truly content in the end seem far and few between; I’ve been eyeing this one for quite some time, and it’s nice to know that it awaits with this sense of contentment! (I also like the sounds of the unlikely friendship; it makes me think of those cute videos where lions adopt lambs and such.)

  7. I’ve seen a few reviews of this book fairly recently (probably as part of WIT Month), all quite positive. Glad to hear you enjoyed it as It’s the Ogawa I’d like to read next. It sounds rather different from some of her other books in translation – quieter, more contemplative in style than Revenge and The Diving Pool.

    1. Yes it is. After I read this book I was surprised to see that her writing style is very different in Diving Pool and her other wrks. I would like to try out her darker reads as well. I am sure you would enjoy this book. As you say, it is ‘quieter’ and enjoyable.

  8. I love books about friendship and this just sounds like such a lovely read. I’m also quite curious about the mathematics and how it is used in the story, so I will definitely be adding this to my reading list.

    1. Thank you. I am sure you will love the book in that case. the Professor tries to bring out the beauty of numbers and get others interested in Mathematics in spite of his memory problems.

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