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Estelle: The Professor and the Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa

The Professor and the Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa
Pages: 192
Published: February 3, 2009
Target Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Why I read it: A gift from my friend, Rachel.

Summary: A housekeeper and her son form an unexpected bond with one of her employers — a mathematical genius whose memory starts to shut down after 80 minutes.

There was an episode of Private Practice on not too long ago about a couple having a baby — except the wife had been in a horrible car accident and had just about no short-term memory. The doctors (and her husband) had to keep reminding her she was pregnant. It was heartbreaking and even more so, because the husband wanted to take their child once it was born and leave his wife — it was too much for him.

So why am I talking about this? As soon as I reread the back of this book, I was reminded of the above storyline. Except this book, translated from Japanese, revolves around strangers formulating an unlikely unit.

A housekeeper is the 10th on a long list of caregivers the professor has had. Every morning their relationship begins again. When is your birthday? What is your shoe size? He asks her. To “remember” he pins little notes to his suits — they form a whole new layer to his ensemble. Soon the professor is welcoming the housekeeper into his world of math — seemingly the only thing he has a handle on. Surprising herself, she gets sucked in — thinking intently about numbers and their own stories. When the professor finds out she has a son, he insists she brings him over everyday and here begins one of the best parts of the story: the professor’s love for her son, who he nicknames Root due to the flatness of his head, similar to a square root symbol.

The housekeeper and her son are hyper-aware of his condition and work diligently not to confuse him further — even pretending his favorite baseball player is still pitching for the Tigers. Root brings out this sensitive, affectionate, and protective side of the professor, and we find they all sort of fill a gap in each other’s lives.

As a non-math fan (you should have seen my calculus grades), the Professor sells me on the universal language of the subject, even though I felt some of the problems slowed the flow of the story. Baseball, a game of numbers, is also mentioned a lot — which I liked. It was another tool that brought 3 very different people together.

While there are many sad moments within his novel, how this bond changes each of these characters makes it an uplifting read. Just because a man forgets after 80 minutes, it does not stop the housekeeper (and her son) from being a friend. They certainly learned more than math.

Thanks again to my friend, Rachel, for sharing one of her favorite books with me.

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December 29, 2011 - 5:28 pm

Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl - Wow… how sad. I have a really, really hard time reading sad books. This one sounds interesting, though, and I’m glad it was uplifting at the same time. An 80-minute memory? Very Dory to me. I think it’s great that the housekeeper and her son were able to cope with that kind of memory lifespan. My grandma can’t remember things, and frequently tells me the same thing 5 minutes later. Christmas dinner was full of her asking me the same thing over and over again. It gets tiring!

December 29, 2011 - 3:22 pm

Rachel - Reading your review makes me want to re-read the book! It’s just such a beautifully written story. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! :)

December 28, 2011 - 2:25 pm

Alexa @ Alexa Loves Books - This sounds rather heartbreaking, but seems beautifully written. It’s an intriguing story, that’s for sure.

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