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Momo (novel)Momo, also known as The Grey Gentlemen or The Men in Grey, is a fantasy novel by Michael Ende, published in 1973. It is about the concept of time and how it is used by humans in modern societies. The full title in German (Momo oder Die seltsame Geschichte von den Zeit-Dieben und von dem Kind, das den Menschen die gestohlene Zeit zurückbrachte) translates to Momo, or the strange story of the time-thieves and the child who brought the stolen time back to the people. The book won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in 1974.

In the ruins of an amphitheatre just outside an unnamed city lives Momo, a little girl of mysterious origin. She came to the ruin, parentless and wearing a long, used coat. She is illiterate and cannot count, and she doesn't know how old she is. When asked, she replies, "As far as I remember, I've always been around." She is remarkable in the neighbourhood because she has the extraordinary ability to listen—really listen. By simply being with people and listening to them, she can help them find answers to their problems, make up with each other, and think of fun games. The advice given to people "go and see Momo!" has become a household phrase and Momo makes many friends, especially an honest, silent street-cleaner, Beppo, and a poetic, extroverted tour guide, Gigi (Guido in some translations).

This pleasant atmosphere is spoiled by the arrival of the Men in Grey, eventually revealed as a species of paranormal parasites stealing the time of humans. Appearing in the form of grey-clad, grey-skinned, bald men, these strange individuals present themselves as representing the Timesavings Bank and promote the idea of "timesaving" among the population: supposedly, time can be deposited in the Bank and returned to the client later with interest. After encountering the Men in Grey, people are made to forget all about them, but not about the resolution to save as much time as possible for later use. Gradually, the sinister influence of the Men in Grey affects the whole city: life becomes sterile, devoid of all things considered time-wasting, like social activities, recreation, art, imagination, or sleeping. Buildings and clothing are made exactly the same for everyone, and the rhythms of life become hectic. In reality, the more time people save, the less they have; the time they save is actually lost to them. Instead, it is consumed by the Men in Grey in the form of cigars made from the dried petals of the hour-lilies that represent time. Without these cigars the Men in Grey cannot exist.

Momo, however, is a wrench in the plans of the Men in Grey and the Timesavings Bank, thanks to her special personality. The Men in Grey try various plans to deal with her, to derail her from stopping their scheme, but they all fail. When even her closest friends fall under the influence of the Men in Grey in one way or another, Momo's only hope to save the time of mankind are the administrator of Time, Master Secundus Minutus Hora, and Cassiopeia, a tortoise who can communicate through writing on her shell and can see thirty minutes into the future. Momo's adventure takes her from the depths of her heart, which her own time flows from in the form of lovely hour-lilies, to the lair of the Men in Grey themselves, where the time that people believe they are saving is hoarded.

After Master Hora stops time, but gives Momo a one hour-lily to carry with her, she has exactly one hour to defeat the Men in Grey in a frozen world where only they and she are still moving. She surreptitiously follows them to their underground lair and observes as they decimate their own number in order to stretch their supply of time as far as possible. With the advice of Cassiopeia and by using the hour-lily, Momo is able to shut the door to their vault. Facing extinction as soon as their cigars are consumed, the few remaining Men in Grey pursue Momo, perishing one by one. The last Man in Grey finally begs her to give him the hour-lily, and when she refuses, he too vanishes remarking that "it is good it is over".

Using the last minute she has before her hour-lily crumbles, Momo opens the vault again, releasing the millions of hour-lilies stored within. The stolen time returns to its proper owners and goes back to their hearts, causing time to start again (without people knowing it had ever halted). Momo is reunited with her friends, and elsewhere Master Hora rejoices together with Cassiopeia.

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