The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yōko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor, written by Yoko Ogawa, translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder

Every morning, during the entire time I worked for the Professor, we repeated this numerical q and a at the front door. To the Professor, whose memory lasted only eighty minutes, I was always a new housekeeper he was meeting for the first time, and so every morning he was appropriately shy and reserved. He would ask my shoe size or telephone number, or perhaps my zip code, the registration number on my bicycle, or the number of brushstrokes in the characters of my name; and whatever the number, he invariably found some significance in it. Talk of factorials and prime flowed effortlessly, seeming completely natural, never forced.” (pg. 7)

Book Review by Grace Heine

In The Housekeeper and the Professor, a housekeeper is tasked with the care of an elderly professor whose short-term memory only spans eighty minutes. Although their relationship must begin again each day, a bond slowly forms between the two as well as between the Professor and the Housekeeper’s son, whom the Professor nicknames Root (as in the symbol √). The story follows almost a year of their lives and is full of the slightly eccentric ways of an old man, Japanese baseball, and of course, terrible, horrible math. But somehow, this book presents mathematical formulas in such a delightful way that one can’t help but find them beautiful.

I hate math.

I am terrible at math.

I will do anything to avoid math.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is full of math and I adore it.

I don’t normally read books that are purely character driven, and if I do, ninety-eight percent of the time (yes, that is a totally accurate number) I don’t enjoy it. I love a good adventure story, or a mystery story, or a story with at least something blowing up – yet this book managed to keep me enthralled without any of those. I kept waiting for there to be a huge plot twist revolving around the Professor’s car accident, or maybe his sister-in-law, but there were no secrets to reveal – which in and of itself was a plot twist (for me at least).

A final interesting fact about this book is that no one is given a name; the Housekeeper, the Professor, the widow, even Root is only a nickname. In my opinion, this makes the story just a bit more beautiful.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a simply gorgeous book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy a good story and isn’t afraid to wade through a few math equations to get it.

Age Range: 13 and up (although a younger child with a strong understanding of math would also enjoy this book)


Violence: The housekeeper reads newspaper article about the Professor’s car accident. Root cuts his hand while pealing an apple and has to get stitches.

Sensuality: Both the Housekeeper and her mother have a child out of wedlock.

Profanity: none

Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cleanness Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

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Grace Heine is a 17-year-old wanna be writer who spends most of her time reading, writing, playing piano, or finding clever ways to be unproductive. You can visit her book review blog here.

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