Momo by Michael Ende
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I owe a debt of gratitude to a good friend for persuading me to read this novel. It is one that I would not have otherwise read, given the general premise and genre. A magical fable. I have one main point of information for you concerning this work that I will pass along right away so that you need not read the remainder of this review to have it. This is an extended fable of extraordinary charm that will captivate a reader of any age level. I can imagine an adult reading this book to a child and both of them deriving so much from it simultaneously. It is a German Wizard of Oz.
A bit past the halfway point of the novel, we encounter this riddle:
All dwelling in one house are strange brothers three,
as unlike as any three brothers could be,
yet try as you may to tell brother from brother,
you'll find that the trio resemble each other.
The first isn't there, though he'll come beyond doubt.
The second's departed, so he's not about.
The third and the smallest is right on the spot,
and manage without him the others could not.
Yet the third is a factor with which to be reckoned
because the first brother turns into the second.
You cannot stand back and observe number three,
for one of the others is all you will see.
So tell me, my child, are the three of them one?
Or are there but two? Or could there be none?
Just name them, and you will at once realize
that each rules a kingdom of infinite size.
They rule it together and are it as well.
In that, they're alike, so where do they dwell?
The brothers described are the past, the present, and the future. Both the subject and theme of the novel is Time. Time is being surreptitiously stolen from the inhabitants of this indeterminate place by humorless men dressed in gray. As the general supply of time dwindles, the citizenry become more rushed and work harder for longer hours, slowly losing the capacity to enjoy any of the intangible pleasures of life let alone their material accumulations.
The heroine is a child, Momo. When even her two trusty sidekicks, Guido and Beppo, succumb to the theft of time, all appears hopeless. The central image of this novel, which is rife with imagery, is the hour-lily, the source of time itself. They are cultivated by a Professor Hora. The tour we take of Professor Hora's headquarters and garden at the midpoint of this novel is a tour de force of imagination and imagery on the part of the author, Michael Ende. A magical delight.
My translation is by J. Maxwell Brownjohn. My usual word concerning translations. I spend nary a bit of time anymore worrying about whether my translation is a faithful one. If a translated novel works in English, I accept it without question and care not a whit whether it bears any relationship whatsoever to the original. This is a beautiful novel in English.
In any event and in the end, it is incumbent upon little Momo under the instruction of Professor Horo to do battle alone against the men in gray, the thieves of time. The novel is paced well, and the denouement is exciting.
Perhaps you should attempt to get around any preconceptions or biases concerning books of this sort and give it a try.
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