Like most people I was introduced to maths at school, that cocky kid, who took great delight in showing you up, in a bit of light bullying, was quite happy to use weapons (algebra,statistics). But I left school, started work etc & never really met him/her again, there was no reason to.
So when I came across this book, my immediate reaction was MATHS!!. But everything I read about this book, stated how wonderful it was, fellow bloggers, paper reviewers even other writers (for the most part) only had good things to say & to add to the conspiracy, my library had a copy !.
The book tells the tale of a single mother, hired to care for a retired maths professor, who is suffering from Anterograde amnesia, this means he cannot create new memories or has a limited span. In the professor's case he has an 80 minute time span after which all is lost to him. This was caused by an auto crash in 1975, so everything before then he can remember for example; all the baseball players he would have known have long since retired (this last bit is relevant).
Through the mother, we learn how the professor copes, the strategies he uses such as pinning notes to his suit, the maths problems he spends all day solving etc. We also look on whilst there develops this sweet innocent relationship between the two, spoken through the language of maths, intensified when her son comes into the picture & the Professor forms an immediate bond with the lad, partly brought on by a shared love of base ball, except the Prof only knows the players pre 1975 & the boy supports the teams featured now (I told you it was relevant), watching how the lad skirts this issue is one the delights of this book .
We follow this family, for that's what they become, through several highs & lows until the professors death. Very little happens in this book, it’s like catching a glance into someone's daily routine, the usual confrontations, moments of joy, the sadness & the sheer absurdity of every day existence, compressed into a cycle of 80 minutes . We see the Professor meeting the Housekeeper anew each day & watch him re- acquaint himself using numbers to communicate & as a safeguard.
“I was always a new housekeeper he was meeting for the first time, & so every morning he was appropriately shy & reserved. He would ask my shoe size or telephone number, or perhaps my zip code, the registration number of my bicycle, or the number of brush strokes in the characters of my name; & whatever the number, he invariably found some significance in it”
So, although maths plays a large part in this novel, it’s there to aid communication, this is how the professor deals with the world, his coping mechanism, his courtship, his poetry. There is a line in a song by Simon & Garfunkel – I am a rock
“ I have my books & my poetry to protect me,I am shielded in my armour, hiding in my room, safe within my tomb, I touch no one & no one touches me”Except the House keeper with her son do touch him, & it’s maths that allows this process to start & communicates it to us, as onlookers into their lives.
Kenzaburo Oe has said,, “Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating”. It is this subtlety that provides the magic in this book, there are no fireworks, the magic is gentle, sleight of hand & like good sleight of hand, no matter how close in you go you don’t see how its done, you just see the magic.
On a different note this book is just as much about Baseball as it is Maths.
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