This 2003 novella from Japanese author Yoko Ogawa (translated by Steven Snyder) has a little bit of a Tuesdays with Morrie feel. The three major characters are a professor with a brain injur and the single mother and her son who take on the task of being the professor’s caregiver. The book is scattered with all your favorites from number theory: perfect numbers, amicable numbers, twin primes and Ruth-Aaron pairs to name a few. These are presented in a very clear manner for the non-math inclined. The professor helps the housekeeper and her son, who he nicknames “Root”, learn some of the interesting properties of numbers as they help him manage the daily functions of life that challenge him. There is also quite a bit of Japanese baseball scattered throughout.
The language is simple but beautiful…
“…as soon as the Professor would mention prime numbers, we would look at each other with conspiratorial smiles. Just as the thought of a caramel can cause your mouth to water, the mere mention of prime numbers made us anxious to know more about their secrets.”
“Solving a problem for which you know there’s an answer is like climbing a mountain with a guide, along a trail someone else has laid. In mathematics, the truth is somewhere out there in a place no one knows, beyond all the beaten paths. And it’s not always at the top of the mountain. It might be in a crack on the smoothest cliff or somewhere deep in the valley.”
The whole book can be completed in a long afternoon. The Japanese version won several book awards in that country. The translated version was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice . The book was made into a Japanese language film “The Professor’s Beloved Equation”.