You're working away at your job. It's not a particularly bad job, and you don't particularly hate it, but there are moments of monotony that you have to endure, and this is one of them.
Then, a strange man appears. He claims to be from the Timesaving Bank, and apparently you unknowingly requested to open an account with them. Naturally, your response is, "What?!"
He calmly tells you that you've been squandering away your time. Spending thirty minutes on a task that could - should - have taken you fifteen. Keeping pet birds. Sitting around contemplating life. He does some elaborate arithmetic and tells you your time's going to run out much too soon.
But, he continues, you shouldn't panic. The solution is simple. Cut down on all that wastage, and whatever time you save, he will collect and put into the Timesaving Bank. Not only that, but you'll earn interest on your deposit. Isn't that a worthwhile investment?
Momo's friends certainly agree.
When Momo notices the Men in Grey that have been appearing in town, and the strange behaviour of her friends, she's convinced that something's not right. Unbeknownst to them, they've been manipulated by the Men in Grey to give up their most valuable possession - time.
It takes a special type of hero or heroine to fight the Men in Grey. Momo is not especially clever, or athletic, or ambitious. In many respects, she is an ordinary child - just as innocent, naive and prone to mistakes. Armed with a strange tortoise, one hour, and a unique talent for listening, Momo sets out to save her friends and the world from losing the remainder of their lives to the time-parasites.
Momo is an allegorical tale by Michael Ende, who is most well-known for his other children's fantasy, The Neverending Story. (It's worth noting that Ende's stories are for "any child between 80 and 8 years".) In both that and Momo, he uses fantastical backdrops and the keen observation of quiet and introspective children to make his social commentary. Ende is not always subtle, but never does it feel as if he is forcing these ideas on you.
The novel begins slowly, introducing us to Momo's world and her friends. We start at the ruins of an amphitheatre near a poor part of town, and meet Momo's friends, including the talkative and wildly inventive storyteller, Girolamo, and the quiet and contemplative Beppo the Roadsweeper. Then the pace picks up and the plot thickens as we see the residents give up their idyllic lifestyles in exchange for promises of something better.
Don't let the 'children's fiction' designation fool you. Behind the story of Momo is a thought-provoking and insightful look at the concept of time. This story doesn't simply tell you that time is precious. It attempts to show what time is, through a combination of metaphor, symbolism and story.
One point that did detract slightly from the book is that it doesn't explore alternate points of view in nearly as much depth, but perhaps that would have lessened the impact of the message. For a novel written nearly forty years ago, it is surprisingly relevant to today's society.
Unfortunately, Momo is rather hard to come across - check libraries. Physical bookstores are unlikely to have it stocked (Kinokuniya is one exception, the last time I checked) but you can order it. Failing that, there's the option of online shopping - you can buy it from Amazon, Book Depository, Bookworld, for a start.
There are some books everyone should read, & I think this is one of them. Closing remarks: read Momo.