Book review : “The Housekeeper and the Professor”

For last few years, I have been reading quite a few Japanese authors and I am in love with ways, Japanese writers handle emotions. Most of the folks I know are in love with Murakami, but frankly, I did not like his works. The Japanese author that I love is Kazuo Ishiguro, and now after reading this, I will be adding Yoko Ogawa to that list.

If you visit Varanasi and go to Assi ghat, there is a quaint little bookshop which goes by the name “Harmony book store”. I have been frequenting this bookstore since class 10th or so. It’s been almost 20 years, the owner always has the best recommendation, in fact, “The professor and the housekeeper” was recommended by him.

The story revolves around a sexagenarian mathematics professor and his housekeeper, and her 8 years old son. Everyday conversations between the housekeeper and the professor, are around numbers. Prof loves it when especially if there is a prime number involved. Now if you are a geek or engineering background, you would love all these number references. How to find beauty in a prime number. The emotional aspect of the story is high, it unfolds like a lotus, presenting us ordinary existence of a housekeeper and the professor, yet their extraordinary existence.

“Soon after I began working for the Professor, I realized that he talked about numbers whenever he was unsure of what to say or do. Numbers were also his way of reaching out to the world. They were safe, a source of comfort.”

Through the pages, we learn about housekeeper’s son, whom prof calls as the root cause of his thick tuft of hair. Together they share a bond and mutual love for baseball. But the crux of the story is that Prof had an accident a few years back and owing to that his memory lasts only 80 minutes. To cope up with this, he uses sticky notes on his jacket.

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Every morning the housekeeper will have the same set of questions
What’s your shoe size?
When is your birthday?
It was the sheer pleasure of going back to numbers, looking at them in an intuitive way to decipher their mystery. A few years back I remember seeing the documentary about the Cambridge Prof who solved Fermat’s last theorem. Here we had ‘the most beautiful mathematical equation’. Read the paper in the link, by Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin.

This quote from the book perfectly sums it up

“…The pages and pages of complex, impenetrable calculations might have contained the secrets of the universe, copied out of God’s notebook.
In my imagination, I saw the creator of the universe sitting in some distant corner of the sky, weaving a pattern of delicate lace so fine that that even the faintest light would shine through it. The lace stretches out infinitely in every direction, billowing gently in the cosmic breeze. You want desperately to touch it, hold it up to the light, rub it against your cheek. And all we ask is to be able to re-create the pattern, weave it again with numbers, somehow, in our own language; to make the tiniest fragment our own, to bring it back to earth.”

Now I am waiting to watch the movie, and waiting for book depository to deliver Yoko Ogawa’s another classic “The memory police”.

Book Review – The Gone World

the gone world

“The totality of human endeavor is nothing when set against the stars.”
― Tom Sweterlitsch

Frankly, I picked this one up after watching ‘Tenet’ trailer, someone on Reddit mentioned that Tenet is loosely based on this one. Although now I realized it’s Neill Blomkamp – District 9, Elysium director – is making a movie out of this novel. Also, it has been a while since I read a good sci-fi! I have been delving into fiction and the magical world of Neil Gaiman mostly. Or writing them essays for the last two months or so.
The novel centers around Shannon Moss, who is an investigating agent for NCIS. The navy research wing has advanced engineering and few selected agents can travel through time. They do so only for the most complex of cases. Shannon is investigating a homicide, which turns out to be one of the links of the long chain of criminal activity. But the thread that ties the whole story is how each IFT (Inadmissible Future Trajectory) and present world of the year 1997 (called Terra Firma ) has been spun together to weave a complex and twisty timeline.

The book stands true to its review – “I promise you have never read a story like this.” and “True detective meets Inception”. Often at times though it felt a bit gruesome when murder scenes were being described. But once you get over those, the book is one you would be talking about and probably recommending it, vehemently, to your fellow book readers. Yes, I did already 😉

As with all-time travel movies or books, the moment it ends you want to reread it and see if every jigsaw falls into its place, so probably I would read it again soon. (Or just wait for M. to finish it and then we can discuss it).

In an interview, the author, Tom Sweterlitsch,  mentioned that

“Brandt and Lomonaco, the scientists in the gone world who are credited with the creation of the time travel engine. Dr. Brandt, in real life, is my father-in-law, a brilliant theoretical physicist who was a pioneer in quantum computing and quantum cryptography for the Department of Defense. His longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Lomonaco, is a mathematician specializing in Knot Theory.”

Also, the novel has a fair bit of horror elements. Tom did mention those. The genre is called Lovecraftian Horror.

when I started The Gone World. My first conception of the book was “NCIS plus Battlestar Galactica plus time travel.” The horror elements came a little later, though I think horror is a natural outgrowth of the things I was writing about.

For the interested, the actual links for time travel and quantum related terminology are in the references.

The book stands true to its review – “I promise you have never read a story like this.” and “True detective meets Inception”. Often at times though it felt a bit gruesome when murder scenes were being described. But once you get over those, the book is one you would be talking about and probably recommending it, vehemently, to your fellow book readers. Yes, I did already 😉

As with all-time travel movies or books, the moment it ends you want to reread it and see if every jigsaw falls into its place, so probably I would read it again soon. (Or just wait for M. to finish it and then we can discuss it).

But prepare to be awed by time-traveling agent and anti-heroes trying to save the earth from its future demise, characters strong-headed yet delusional, and elements of intense science fiction. I was blown away by the plot, and how simple yet efficiently the premise of time travel was explained. I would say this one is my favorite sci-fi novel now, (truth be told I haven’t read a lot – time machine, War of the worlds, 20000 leagues under the sea). Now that I googled, I gotta read 1984, Neuromancer, Fahrenheit 451, Asimov’s or The Martian (I was browsing at a bookstore at NUS, selling it for only $5 ) Pheww or I can just read the Nebula award winners.

References 

  1. Time Travel Terminologies
    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_foam
    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casimir_effect
    3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Brandt
  2. https://medium.com/adjacent-possible/q-a-with-tom-sweterlitsch-author-of-the-gone-world-69f8bd4f34e0
  3. NCIS
    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Criminal_Investigative_Service
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lovecraftian_horror

Book review : “Celestial Bodies”

Truth be told I picked this up at an airport bookstore, overpowered by the confirmation bias –  “A Booker prize winner!! Whoa!!”

( Take one look at my bookshelf and you would know that why confirmation bias is a bias ! There are at least 3-4 booker prize winners waiting for their turn to be acknowledged, or scrolled past their first few chapters, forever looming in the limbo like Leonardo did in Inception.)

Yet this one I finished, and that too within 3-4 weeks. So yay ! The-one-which-escaped-the-limbo and lived upto it’s bias. Congratulations Jokha Alharti for writing this gem.
Celestial Bodies has an interesting, intricate and intelligent plot set in a village in Al-Awafi, Oman, and it oscillates timelessly between three generations of a merchant family. Primarily focused on three sisters and their life and their marriage. The book is been intricately written memoir from viewpoint of various characters, and it bounds you to the story like a fluidly flowing sitcom plot. Few episodes and you feel for the characters- Mayya, Asma and Khawla.
It was my first book from Gulf ( you can count close neighbor Turkey if you include Orhan Pamuk’s writings) and the reason why it became more interesting like a documentary drama running on NatGeo, telling about the life in a Oman village, the culture the people, how they evolved through last few decades. The whole narrative weaves an intricate carpet of emotions from a first-person and third person’s viewpoint. Although in the beginning, the non-linear literary locus of characters is a bit difficult to follow(and that’s where readers leave seemingly difficult bookers may be ?) the story grows over you slowly- layers upon layers – like a rich caramel cake of alphabets.
Try it and you will not be disappointed if you love good old fiction with experimental storylines and peek into the world of Gulf across three family generations.img_3563

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