We called him the Professor. And he called my son Root, because, he said, the flat top of his head reminded him of the square root sign.So begins The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, by far my favorite read of 2015. The Professor was an expert in number theory until a car accident in 1975 causes irreversible brain damage and robs him of his memory. He can remember everything before 1975; but anything after 1975 only sticks in his head for 80 minutes. Then it's gone. Forever. "How exactly does a man live with only eighty minutes of memory?" That's the question this charming novel explores through the eyes of the Professor's new housekeeper and her ten-year-old son.
For the Professor, numbers are the one constant in his life. And it's through numbers, and the way they relate to each other, that he connects with other people. He looks for prime numbers and square roots in the housekeeper's phone number and age; and he is delighted when he finds a pair of 'amicable numbers' in her birth date (220) and the number of his first math prize (284). He also unconditionally loves her son, spending many happy hours explaining the elegance of numbers to him, from simple baseball stats to esoteric proofs. But every morning, they have to begin from scratch with him because for the Professor, yesterday no longer exists.
This novel is sweet and poignant and I absolutely loved it. In fact, when I was done, I found myself flipping back through it and rereading all my favorite parts. The professor's situation tugged at my heart, and I was glad for every happy moment he shared with the housekeeper and her son, even though I knew in 80 minutes he would only forget again. Who knew such a small book could have such a big impact? It will definitely be at the top of my Favorite Reads of 2015 list come December. (In fact, this bookish gem is one I wouldn't mind owning and reading again and again. It's that good!)