Great stories often consist of a mixture of witty humour, wonder, and surprises, and the ones that most of us find especially engaging are filled with vivid imagination only a child could make up. As you can imagine, a book without this special magic is probably not going to draw you in at the first sentence; nor is it going to make you grip onto its pages so tightly that you need a crowbar to pry the book from your hands. Michael Ende’s “Momo”, an extraordinary book, however, breaks this convention.
Unlike most popular children books nowadays, “Momo” is unique for it is not about good against evil, nor is it packed with actions, and characters who are gifted with special powers, or stashes of special gadgets. “Momo” only becomes more and more captivating halfway through, so wonderful that even the strongest crowbar couldn’t pry the book from my hands.
Momo, the title character, a runaway orphan, lives alone in the ruins of an old amphitheatre on the outskirts of an Italian city. Despite her impoverished life, Momo does not lack of happiness and companionship; the neighbouring families are fond of this little wonder, and they show their affection by caring for the orphan. Momo and her friends live a peaceful, happy life, until a group of mysterious men arrive in town. These strange newcomers, all suited in a monotonous grey outfit who look identical to each other, claim to be agents from the Timesaving Bank. They appear as helpful businessmen, but it doesn’t take long for Momo to uncover the truth–they steal time. Now it is up to Momo and her friends to overthrow the Men in Grey and return the town’s stolen time.
On first look, one would think “Momo” is about saving time, and saving time is all there is, that we shall not waste time, for time is precious. “Momo” is therefore a cautionary tale; however the setup of this story is far more complex. Throughout the book, the author shows us that while time is saved in the bank, life unexpectedly becomes more dull and tedious, as people constantly cram what little time they have in their hands to do more and more and more, instead of taking a break, and to enjoy all the little things in their lives. On this, the author can’t make this notion any clearer:
“People never seemed to notice that, by saving time, they were losing something else. No one cared to admit that life was becoming ever poorer, bleaker and more monotonous. The ones who felt this most keenly were the children, because no one had time for them any more. But time is life itself, and life resides in the human heart. And the more people saved, the less they had.”
Even though “Momo” was first published in 1974, the author’s view rings even truer in the world we now live in. The technology today is extremely helpful, and all of us can accomplish much more in the shortest time possible, but the down side of such advanced inventions is that the more and quicker we could get things done, the more we are expected to do. In other words, instead of using the time we saved by completing our tasks faster to live a more relaxed life, we exhaust ourselves to no end.
Eric Carle shares the same worry as Ende, and he expresses this concern in of one of my favourite children’s books, “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth:
“Why are we always in a hurry?
Rush. Rush. Rush.
We scurry from here and there. We play computer games and then –
Quick! Click! – we watch TV. We eat fast food.
There’s so little time jut to be with friends,
To watch a sunset or to gaze at a star-filled sky.”
In “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth, Eric Carle uses the character of the sloth to get his message across to the readers. Similarly, in “Momo”, Michael Ende uses the characters of the Men in Grey to deliver his thoughts on saving time; these Timesaving Bank agents are a device to show the pressure we give ourselves. For instance in one of the chapters, a barber, Mr. Figaro, is lectured by one of these shady creatures, who pesters him to spend less time with his mother and more on working.
Speaking of the characters of this book, one of my favourites is surprisingly an animal. Timekeeper Secundus Minutus Hora’s oracle tortoise, Cassiopiea, is one of the characters that caught my attention from early on. A tortoise that is able to see half an hour into the future is a very weird but fascinating idea, which is why I favoured this small wonder of an animal in the story.
When reading this fantastic novel, it was impossible not to think whether we truly understand what time means to us? Do we unnecessarily spend too much time on too many things everyday? Both Eric Carle and Michael Ende deliver a very powerful message in their books, and I, myself, couldn’t agree more with their perspectives. If saving time means working endlessly, rushing around in a hurry, spending less time with your loved ones, and living a stressful life, then we must have a very flawed idea of time. Certainly “Momo” has shown me that we must spend our time wisely.
After reading “Momo”, I am looking forward to read another book by Michael Ende, The Neverending Story. But first will Momo have what it takes to defeat the deceptive Men in Grey? Will she be able to save the town from the Timesaving Bank’s evil plans? Will she be able to return her friends’ stolen time? To find out what happened in the rest of the story, I recommend reading “Momo” the first chance you get the next time you are in the library.
Rating: 4/5 stars