the housekeeper and the professor

Still on the theme of math-infused narratives, my former PW HOD introduced me to a book that he found fascinating although he did not fully comprehend the mathematical aspects of it. We had spent much of our acquaintance working together (and sometimes politely disagreeing) to improve the teaching of PW in our school, so, I wasn’t sure whether our taste in books are altogether compatible. But it is rare enough to find a fiction work that wasn’t based on an eccentric, real mathematician so, I was sufficiently intrigued to search out this one.

Title: The Housekeeper and the Professor

Author: Yoko Ogawa (the version I got was translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder).  It was first published in 2003 but the English language version came out in 2009.

Plot: A young, single mother was hired to be the housekeeper of a mathematics professor with anterogarde amnesia, which left him with only eighty minutes worth of memory at any time. (This was the same condition made famous by Drew Barrymore’s film Fifty First Dates, except that Barrymore’s character had 24 hours memory running time.) Despite this, they became acquainted, re-acquainted and re-acquainted as the professor formed enduring connections with both his housekeeper and her young son and they with him.

Initially, when I saw the word ‘amnesia’ jump out of the blurb, I almost put the book back on the shelf. Continue reading


Snow Queen

If Hong Gil Dong was unappealing because of its cover, Snow Queen had the opposite effect. There are mountains! Snow! Icicles! People in in fur coats! A Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale I really liked! Aaaand mathematics!

(2 friends assured me I would like this because the main character was a math genius.)

Title: Snow Queen/눈의 여왕 / Noon Eui Yeo Wang

Genre: Drama/16 episodes

Plot: Han Tae Woong (Hyun Bin) is an economically deprived genius in mathematics. He wins a scholarship to a top middle school whose niche area is in mathematics and the sciences where he meets Kim Jeong Kyu (Lee Sun Ho), a bright, competitive, economically advantaged boy who has been lauded for his achievements in mathematics since young. After a sticky start, the two became very good friends (I refuse to use the term ‘best friends’ here for reasons I will explain later.). Unfortunately, Jeong Kyu couldn’t deal with the embarassment of losing in a Math Olympiad and killed himself. Tae Woong, who did win, felt so guilty over winning that he decided to drop out of school and become a boxer, using the name Han Deuk Gu in honour of his friend’s favourite boxer. 8 years later, he encountered his dead friend’s sister, Kim Bo-ra (Sung Yu-ri), who was equally highly-strung and had a serious disease – myasthenia (hey, at least its not cancer.) She has a cold streak that supposedly hid a soft heart. Will Tae Woong melt the icy facade of his Snow Queen, wash out the shards of glass in her heart and live happily ever after?

From the tone of this synopsis, I think you can guess Continue reading

mathematics is a universal language…

… says an unknown person whose quip had crept into several exam essay questions. Since I studied mathematics as an undergraduate, many people I know assume I have an extraordinary interest in numbers and would recommend works that “you will really like because it has maths inside.” Maths being uttered in a hushed, respectful tone.

math essays!

I always found those instances both touching and worrying. Touching because I know the recommendation took into account of my interests but worrying because I don’t get new insights to the works just because I studied mathematics before. The mathematics in narratives actually fly over my head most times and I get very nervous when people ask me to explain what was going on.

me and math in my honours year

Works that “have maths inside” can come in many different forms, some of them completely unrelated to mathematics.

Continue reading