40th Anniversary Edition
By Michael Ende
Translated by Lucas Zwirner
Illustrated by Marcel Dzama
Available now from McSweeney's McMullens
I'll admit to only being familiar with Michael Ende through the movie version of The Neverending Story. I'd watch it when it came on network television, but I never read the book. Now that that confession is out of the way . . . MOMO made me wish I'd found Ende's books as a child. I'm not saying that I didn't thoroughly enjoy MOMO as an adult, but I would've liked to grow up with this book sitting on my shelf, likely sandwiched between Dahl and L'Engle. I might not have read MOMO in my childhood, but it felt like it accidentally fell out of there into my adult life.
The illustrations by Marcel Dzama furthered that impression. Something about the lines of his work makes me think of Jules Feiffer and his illustrations for THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. They fit with the story seamlessly, stylish but not too modern.
MOMO is the tale of a young orphan with one great power: she listens. She really listens, and enriches the life of her entire village. But then the gray men come and start to steal time from the villagers, making them harried and hurried and completely without time to stop and talk to someone. Honestly, MOMO did not feel like it was written forty years ago. It's horror at occupying children with gadgets to keep them quiet instead of engaging their imaginations feels extremely contemporary. As for the themes of listening and story, well, those never go out of style, do they?
I can't say anything truly critical about Lucas Zwirner's translation. I haven't read MOMO in the German, or even in another English translation. However, it's not a conspicuous translation. I didn't notice any jarringly modern turns of phrase, nor did the prose feel leaden and lifeless. The tone was very classic children's adventure novel.
I highly recommend MOMO, particularly to those who have a child in their life who could use the gift of a good book. It's a story that reminds us to slow down, to engage with our world and the other people in it. Earning money is not the end all, be all of life. It's a familiar moral, but it's told with such wonderful trappings. A little girl, standing alone against faceless hordes. A turtle that can see the future, a boy whose brain isn't as big as his mouth, a faithful old man, a world in peril. I'm already planning to re-read it come winter, when I'm snuggled up and cozy.