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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. Picador, 2009 English translation by Stephen Snyder. 180 pp.

As happens every once in a while, I came across this book while looking for something to read from my messy bookcase. I think that I must randomly just grab a third book when it’s a three-for-two sale. In any case, it was a great find.

The professor was a brilliant mathematician who was struck by a car. From that moment on, he can remember his past but only current events for 80 minutes each day before they are forgotten.

The housekeeper works for an agency, and she is the tenth employee to be sent on this assignment. She is hired by the professor’s sister-in-law. The sister-in-law lives in a large house and he in a very small house behind her. The sister-in-law wants no contact, and she just wants to know that the housekeeper takes care of his needs from breakfast until he goes to bed.

This job is very unusual, but the housekeeper is determined to make it work. The professor, besides his unusual circumstances, is very eccentric. He spends a lot of time just staring into space and does not want to be interrupted. He enters puzzle contests with complicated math problems and always wins the prize money. He tosses the money aside as his goal is only to solve the puzzle.

However, one day the housekeeper finds out that she is a single mom and has a ten year old son who comes home to an empty house every day. He becomes very disturbed and insists she gets permission to bring the boy to his home. The professor is very different with the boy, who he calls Root, because he has a flat head that reminds him of a square root. He loves to help Root with his math homework.

This was a fun part for me. I had always liked math until it turned into calculus, and then I was done. I still like numbers, and when the professor gave Root number puzzles to solve I liked to try and figure them out, too.

Root and his mother gradually get the professor to move out into the world a little and even to a ball game, although he thinks it is a team from his past life. Things change when Root’s mother is unfairly fired, but time with this unusual man is life changing for Root.

The book is different and the author has a wonderful way of using words.

– C.M.

The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power. Harper Collins 2019. 552 pp. A memoir.

  The author of this book, Samantha Power, was from Ireland, but born in London in 1970 when her mother was in medical school. The family would soon return to Dublin. When she was nine, they would move to America.

Samantha easily adapted to life in America, became an excellent student and was accepted to Yale. After college, she would become a war correspondent in the Balkans for several years. Later, she returned home to begin law school at Harvard, but would travel often to the Middle East.

In 2003, she wrote a book entitled A Problem from Hell: America and The Age of Genocide which deals with the atrocities in Rwanda. This book had a tremendous impact and won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. When Barack Obama, who was then a senator and read the book, he invited Samantha for dinner. They became friends.

From 2013 to 2017, Samantha Power served in President Obama’s cabinet and as a U.S. Ambassador for the United Nations – the youngest American to assume the role. During all this time, she was married and raising two small children. They had a wonderful caregiver. She now lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Case Sunstein. She is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

It’s impossible to describe how impressed I was by this book and especially its special author. I highly recommend it. 

– P.M.

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