The Housekeeper and the Professor

Yoko Ogawa
Review by: Brittany Kozak

A delightful read about a mathematics professor who experienced brain damage in an accident, leaving him with only 80 minutes of present-time memory since the accident henceforth. The book could serve both teachers and students at the junior level and above. It is written by Yoko Ogawa, a Japanese author, developed closely with mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara. This is a fictional piece that ignites excitement within the reader through the fascinating and at times beautiful mathematical concepts and patterns, which are shared in the novel by the Professor during his interactions with his new housekeeper and her son. For both teachers and students alike, The Housekeeper and the Professor is sure to engage and amaze the reader in mathematical concepts through the narrative style of Ogawa’s writing, and also through the poetic voice that she gives the Professor. The Professor exudes such a deep, passionate love for numbers that the reader can’t help but share, or at least appreciate, the Professor’s ardor. For teachers, the extensive knowledge about these ‘magical’ patterns can revive their innermost desire to share the ‘magic’ of numbers with their students, offering an aspect of fun to a subject that at times can cause difficulty or anxiety. For teachers, the book also reinforces good pedagogy; the Professor’s gift for teaching is often attributed to his profound love for the subject, his open acceptance of all answers – even when it starts with “I don’t know”, and his ability to answer the same question over and over again with an equal appreciation for the question. For students, the broad range of concepts referred to in the book offers an opportunity to review and check their understanding, all in a motivating and engaging context. Bear in mind, this book was not written with the intention of teaching math, thus its mathematical value is more of an accessory within the novel. In order to extract its mathematical value, you must commit to the story itself, and take the time to read it cover to cover. 

Reviewed by Ashley Hassard

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a charming Japanese tale about the fragility of the mind, the gift of knowledge, and the strength of old passion sparking new. With beautifully woven descriptions that read like poetry on the page, best selling Japanese author Yoko Ogawa describes the expressive story of The Professor and the compassionate Housekeeper who is hired to care for him. The intergenerational pairings and surprising bonds that defy all memorable odds are just some examples of how Ogawa turns the ordinary into the extraordinary all the while inspiring a whole new generation to indulge in their own love of math.

Captivating, heartwarming, and completely relatable to a variety of young adult audiences this book is sure to appeal to any and all avid readers. I am rating this book so highly because I really do feel that the author does a great job at bringing life to what can sometimes be seen as a dry topic. It introduces complex algebra in a simple and understandable way and poses thought provoking mathematical questions almost as a riddle or mystery waiting to be unveiled. If a teacher is looking for a book that can ignite a passion for numbers and a strong interest in math this novel is a perfect fit that makes heroes out of math professors and detectives out of housekeepers!