The Housekeeper and the Professor

by Yoko Ogawa

A charming, simple and poignant tale set in Japan about the developing relationship between a brilliant professor of mathematics, his housekeeper and her son. He only has 80 minutes of short term memory but they all communicate by relating everything to mathematical formulae and equations and baseball. Don’t worry, you don’t have to understand amicable or triangular number or the rules of baseball to enjoy this gentle and endearing story.


Every morning, during the entire time I worked for the Professor, we repeated this numerical question and answer 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 primes flowed effortlessly, seeming completely natural, never forced.
Translated by Stephen Snyder


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