Dancing with elephant and cat: chess praise

It is not the first time that Yoko Ogawa looks at our blog, after his celebrated novel  The favorite formula of the teacher , in which a teacher of mathematics with a limited memory gets a child and his mother grow love of mathematics. Ogawa also played mathematics in  Ice Perfume , in which his protagonist attends an International Mathematical Olympiad.


The prose / poetry of Ogawa is very special, with dreamlike arguments, which seem alien to our reality, described with sublime elegance and tenderness. It is a literature tinged with melancholy, but it makes us think.

This time the publishing house Funambulista has published the one that is its last novel in Spanish, not in Japanese, since  Dancing with elephant and cat dates of 2009. It is not a novel that deals directly on the mathematics, but yes on the chess, and by therefore, indirectly with our discipline. And it is full, as always, of mathematical references, in particular, the geometry of the board, the infinity of the game of chess, the beauty of the algorithms that a game generates (the kifu ).

In this novel, a boy born with his lips sealed but with a great gift for chess, is fascinated by the elephant Indira (condemned to live on the terrace of a department store), and by his teacher of chess, an obese player and former bus driver who lives in one of them conditioned as housing, in the company of his cat Pawn.

The Master will teach the boy all the magic and poetry of chess and have to Obey My Cat, which he will play hidden under the board, from which he leaves only to perform the movements. After the death of the Master, the boy moves to the Pacific Chess Club, where he will play the games anonymously inside an automaton, the small (Litle) Alekhine. There he will meet a singular girl, the Mummy, and his dove. Finally, it will end at the Étude residence, where former chess players take refuge.

A book I recommend for all those who are enthusiastic about chess (and mathematics) and for those who want to enjoy once more the elegant literature of Yoko Ogawa .


Information about the author in Impedimenta : Yoko Ogawa was born in Okayama in 1962. She studied at Waseda University in Tokyo. In 1986 she began her career as a writer, inspired by her readings of the Japanese classics, The Diary of Anne Frank and the works of Kenzaburo Oé. Already with his first novel, When the butterfly breaks down, in 1988 he won the prestigious Kaien Prize, and since then his fame has only grown in Japan and abroad. In 1991 he won the Akutagawa Grand Prize for My Sister’s Pregnancy, published by Editorial Funambulista in 2006, which immediately becomes a best seller in his country. Many of his works have been translated into the main Western languages. In 2003 he publishedThe teacher’s favorite formula(Funambulista, 2008), which won several awards (the Yomiuri Prize, the Japanese Book Prize and the National Mathematics Society: “For showing the beauty of this discipline”). Following the success of the novel and its adaptation to film, radio and comics, in 2005 he co-wrote with the mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara An Introduction to the Most Elegant Mathematics . He currently lives with his family in the ancient trading city of Kurashiki and dedicates himself exclusively to literature.

In addition to the favorite formula of the teacher and the pregnancy of my sister , Editorial Funambulista has published by the Japanese author: Ice Perfume, The girl who went in hippo to school, The pool, Student residence, tender lamentations and The Museum of silence.