Title: The Housekeeper and The Professor
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Publisher: Picador, 2009 (for English translation)
Number of pages: 180
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
How is family defined? Certainly not in the tradition of Dick and Jane stories that were in all of my 1960’s Readers for elementary school: mom at home, father returning from work with his hat, every one cheerfully greeting him to a clean home and prepared dinner. That would be nice, I suppose, if such a world existed. But, rarely can we define it as such.
I love how Ogawa pictures family in this book: a professor who only has 80 minutes of short term memory before he lapses back into forgetfulness; a housekeeper who is a single mother; her son, a boy nicknamed Root by the professor because the flat top of his head reminds the professor of a square root sign.
The professor resembles a sort of Ray Raynor: he clips notes to his suit, which he has written during his lucid moments, in order to remind himself of what has transpired in his life. Every day when the housekeeper comes to his door, he points to a drawing of her clipped on his suit to remind himself who she is.
How unlikely it is, then that these three make a family. And, make a family they do. It is quite obvious that no one loves Root as much as his mother, or the professor. The two of them share a passion for baseball, and the professor teaches Root (and his mother) a certain passion for numbers.
We are able to live with this family for a short time, as Ogawa tells us of their simple lives; those that are filled with beauty and heartache, but above all, love for one another.