Ever since reading Sakura’s glowing review of this attractive little book by Japanese author Yoko Ogawa I have been itching to discover her work for myself. 博士の愛した数式 (新潮文庫) – apparently translated as ‘The Professor’s beloved equation’ – follows our narrator (only ever known as ‘the housekeeper’) and the relationship she and her son develop with an aging maths professor; the victim of a devastating car accident that has left him with a memory that lasts just 80 minutes.
Shuffling around his small bungalow in a suit laden with fluttering notes to remind him of the most important aspects of his everyday life, the Professor begins to explore the beauty of mathematics with his two new pupils, this shared love of numbers reducing their lives to a very simple equation (no pun intended); one of love and friendship, most acutely one between the kindly old man and the boy, lovingly nicknamed Root due to shape of his head:
Now, I have NEVER had a head for mathematics, and the thought of a book that centers itself entirely around numbers and equations wouldn’t ordinarily be something that would float my boat. However, maths, in this instance, merely acts as a beautiful, logical conduit for blossoming relationships. Although the numerous baseball references (another of the Professor’s passions) flew right over my British head, the novel’s cosy atmosphere, even in the face of the tragic situation meant that even a wordy word person like myself could appreciate the sums and puzzles that bring the man closer to the people in the world he has lost. However, what we come to realise gradually is the crafty fantasy world Ogawa has created for us. Our narrator knows and eventually comes to love her employer in a very special way; the impression that he does is, essentially, an illusion.
This is an incredibly poetic, harmonious novel … so wonderfully restrained, subtle and Japanese. Do pick it up. It’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, I promise.