Michael Ende,
translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn,
(Doubleday & Co., 1985)

Michael Ende's The Neverending Story is rightly famous as work of fantastic literature. Unfortunately, his other work is almost forgotten. In the case of Momo, there may be a reason. It's easy and popular to give lip service to the idea of imagination, after all, but who wants to be against efficiency?

Like Ende's more famous work, Momo creates myth out of a modern concerns: the duties of life are multiplying, and everyone's trying to find ways to save their precious time. The grey men of the Time Bank offer their customers just that -- a chance to save time, even accrue interest on it. It's easy enough to cut out all the unnecessary diversions of the day, for what purpose do time-consuming distractions like friends, long meals, entertainment or children truly serve? Thrifty timesavers are promised a return of several lifetimes over if they can just be practical for a few years, and none of the converted timesavers realize how their time seems to be disappearing faster the more they save, or how much else in their lives is disappearing with their lost hours.

The only threat to the success of the men in gray is the children, especially a girl named Momo. Time is the only form of wealth children truly have, and they use it too well to try and save it But even the children are soon trapped in the timesaver's world, shuttled into "child depots" where they learn to be effective, timesaving citizens. Only Momo is left free. She has help, from a strange entity and a tortoise, and she has her own special power: that of listening. With only these slim aids, she must save the world, and she has only one hour to do it.

Ende showed his skill at world building in The Neverending Story, and Momo's world is no less rich and fantastic. But the town Momo lives in is like our own, or one we used to know. Its citizens are like family, and even the most fantastic locations may after all be just around the one corner we never thought to explore. The conventions of the timesaver movement are daily realities, from the rush-through diners to the child depots so familiar to anyone ever caught by the school "efficiency" movement. Momo herself lives very squarely in the old suspended world of childhood, where the important things are clearly defined but reality easily reshaped.

The most impressive aspect of Momo's story is how hard it is not believe in. Anyone who has complained about the pace of modern life will find it hard to laugh off the idea of the men in grey, and may soon be slowing down on purpose to frustrate their cold plans. This is only natural. Momo's gift, after all, is to help people take back their time.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 1 December 2001




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