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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, is a short, powerful, and irresistible tale told from the perspective a nameless Japanese housekeeper, who struggles to care for an intelligent man with memories lapses, the Professor. It is a deeply moving story, which shows the human capacity for profound love and sacrifice in the face of devastating pain and loss. The relationship between housekeeper and Professor shows the reader the ways humans support each other, highlighting perserverence and the strengths of compassion and  love. The result is a surreal and beautiful reading experience, which teaches the reader the many forms of love.

Ogawa introduces the reader to the difficulties between housekeeper and Professor; he or she sees a complex and paradoxical relationship between them, as the housekeeper watches their bond grow closer, they learn more about each other, and the Professor continues to forget her. The reader feels the pain of their experiences as she explains, both her perspective and the Professor’s. The narrator explains that as guest and caretaker, she discovers, “He has difficulties with his memory. He’s not senile, his brain works well, but about seventeen years ago he hit his head in an automobile accident. Since then he has been unable to remember anything new. His memory stops in 1975. He can remember a theorem he developed thirty years ago, but he can’t remember what he ate for dinner last night. In the simplest terms it’s as if he has a single eight minute videotape inside his head, and when he records anything new it only lasts eighty minutes, he has to record over the existing memories. His memory lasts precisely eighty minutes.” (5) As the housekeeper tells his stories and struggles, the reader understands what she knows: the loss of his memories and friendship are particularly difficult each time, because he is a kind and gifted man trapped in a cycle of loss he cannot escape. Through this sad, painful situation, the author communicates the struggles of both characters, to care for and connect with each other.

The reader feels a part of the housekeeper’s experience as she accepts he cannot remember her and fears he is unable to return her affection, but she eventually discovers that love comes in many forms. Ogawa allows the reader to imagine the situation and feel several constantly evolving emotions along with the characters: the reader is happy, grateful, content they found each other, and he or she feels crushed, let down, and hopeless that their connection is continuously severed by illness. In the segments of time he recognizes and remembers her, the Professor and the housekeeper develop a close and endearing relationship; they share salient past and present events in their lives. Through her characters, imagery, settings, the author shows the reader a beauty and appreciation for things most people take for granted. They go on walks in the park, complete mathematical equations that represent nature or the universe, take a trips to baseball games.  Just as the reader and housekeeper are about to give up and determine her tenderness and care cannot be reciprocated, she finds that despite his limitations, he gives love and support in his own ways. Thus, they share an unconventional sort of love, and their common experiences are special, no matter how short-lived.

In The Housekeeper and the Professor, Ogawa creates elegance and meaning through her characters, and the way they live for happiness and to improve the existence of others.  The reader absorbs a sense of significance and purpose in the personalities and lives of the characters that make the book stand out. The text and it’s contents dispense joy to the reader, and a knowledge that despite setbacks and suffering, humans bring real happiness, satisfaction, and meaning to each other’s lives.

Final Rating: 4 out 5 Stars

More Information:

Other Books by Yoko Ogawa:

The Diving Pool