A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading a book that had been recommend in an article I was reading at the MAA website (Mathematical Association of America). The book was called “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yoko Ogawa.
I highly recommend this book as a quick read. It’s a heartwarming tale that wraps a love of mathematics and a touch of number theory into its narrative.
In this story, an interesting malady has befallen one of the main characters, referred to throughout as the “professor”. The story is told by a housekeeper who has come into the employ of the professor through his sister-in-law. We learn very early on that the professor was involved in a car accident that left him with the ability to only remember that last 80 minutes.
If you’ve seen “50 First Dates” starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler then you’re familiar with this condition, at least as a premise for an interesting tale, and you’re familiar with “10 second Tom”. To deal with his illness, the professor has taken to pinning important information to his clothing such as the condition that plagues him, the identity of the new housekeeper and her son, and many other day-to-day items.
What is most interesting about the book is how the author ties the professor’s love of numbers and mathematics into his interactions with people he never remembers having met. The charming tale is built on the ability of the professor to continue his work as a mathematician by solving puzzles published in mathematics journals and how he interacts with the housekeeper and her young son through a common love of Japanese baseball.
Again, I would highly recommend this book for anyone with the even smallest love for mathematics or, perhaps, a mathematician. The only complaint that I have for this book is one that only makes it better for many of the readers of this blog. The mathematics while intriguing and well explained doesn’t get too deep. I’m no number theorist but this book inspires me to learn more about the field because the topics dealt with in this book left me wanting more.