Maybe I just need to make friends with more math geeks. It works for the nameless Housekeeper, who learns to delight in math as she becomes friends with the professor she keeps house for. Math has become a constant companion for the Professor, since a car accident thirty-five years ago that caused his short-term memory to re-set itself every eighty minutes. Needless to say, this can be a barrier to making new friends. He has to write down "the new Housekeeper," with a little sketch, on a slip of paper he pins to his suitcoat so he'll understand who the Housekeeper is when she arrives each morning. And each afternoon when her son arrives from school, the Professor dubs him with the same nickname, day after day.
Stephen Snyder's translation from author Yoko Ogawa's Japanese flows beautifully, while maintaining a Japanese flavor. Parts of the narrative posed complicated challenges--in one segment, for example, the Professor helps the housekeeper's son come up with a palindrome for a homework assignment. Editor David Rogers said, during a Twitter bookchat, "Palindromes are untranslatable, so we worked with Ogawa to invent a new one. Actually, the original palindrome was (in phonetic Japanese) "reito toire," which translates 'frozen toilet.'"
The new palindrome? "I prefer pi."
I don't normally announce how I receive a book, but this was so fun I had to share: I never would've read this if I hadn't won it through Picador's Weekly Book Club on Twitter. For the next one (this Friday, probably around mid-day Eastern Time), author Augusten Burroughs will be on Twitter to discuss A Wolf at the Table. Even without having read the book, that should be interesting!
The Soundtrack: First, a quote from the Professor, as he explains the history of the concept of zero:
"A ruler begins at zero. All you have to do is line up the edges of what you want to measure with the zero, and the ruler does the rest. If you started with 1, it wouldn't work. So it's zero that allows us to use a ruler, too."As soon as I read this passage (the full section is too lengthy to quote here) I got the Schoolhouse Rock song My Hero Zero in my head. I prefer the more modern version by The Lemonheads, so that's the one I put in my Soundtrack, but for nostalgia's sake here's the original cartoon as well.