“The housekeeper and the Professor”, by Yoko Ogawa

Over the last few years, I have been more and more fascinated by Japanese authors. Not everything is Murakami. Some of my recent reads are classics, some are less known. To kick start our own Japanese series, we discover this little gem.

What is it about?

This one is a peculiar one. We don’t know the names of the characters and it is not important. We know that one of them is a housekeeper, and her assignment is to go to this professor’s house. The professor had an accident many years previous, and his memory only lasts 80 minutes. His suit is full of post-its with things he wants to remember (like Memento, but less cool, at the end of the day, it is a professor we are talking about here). The Professor is a mathematician, and a very good one, even with the memory loss. The Professor loves children, and once the Housekeeper brings her son in, soon a special dynamic sets in.

What makes it good?

This is a very nice, subtle, loving book about friendship. It could have been written in Japan or in France, it really does not matter the location, which I find a plus, in this case. The story is told from the point of view of the Housekeeper, and it’s plain and yet delightful. There is a lot of math’s talk, but since it is from her point of view, it becomes interesting and fascinating, fully part of the story. I really enjoyed this book, it was like a warm hug. Nothing much happens, but it fills you with a sense of serenity. 

The style

It must be awful to try and translate such a different language to a Western one, whichever it may be. I try, whenever I can, to read a book in its original language because translation, to put it like Umberto Eco would, is “to say almost the same thing”, but not really. The translator is always there and so a translated book can be a work of two sets of hands. I don’t know Japanese and I have to rely on a translator, and I often wonder about the double difficulty of translating words and also the culture from which the words stem, which is vastly different in this case. Anyway, I am rambling. There is a certain amount of lyrical gentleness in Japanese authors, and this short tale of friendship is a good example of that, without becoming too “alien”, which is something that can put off some readers who are not interested or used to Japanese culture.

Final Mark

It won’t be the novel of the century, but it is definitely a good one to start with if you are interested in exploring Japanese literature but you don’t want to be too weirded out.

I found it a lovely nice little piece of work.


On Bookreads

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