(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

The story told in Momo, which has become familiar to American filmgoers from the movie Madame Rosa, is narrated in the first person by Momo (short for Mohammed). Momo has spent his life at Madame Rosa’s boarding house which she maintains for the children of prostitutes who are still working in the profession. Madame Rosa is Jewish, sixty-eight, weighs 220 pounds, and has survived a long professional career and a stay in a German concentration camp. Momo is ten, the son of an Arab prostitute and possibly an Arab father—“There’s always a mystery when a kid gets born because a woman who hustles for a living hasn’t been able to stop it in time with hygiene”—and he is Madame Rosa’s principal helper in taking care of the boarding children who sometimes number as many as ten. The children are Jewish, Arab, French, Vietnamese, Malian, Senegalese, and others; no distinction is made between the races.

Momo has been with Madame Rosa since he was three. Mothers of the other children come to visit them on Sundays and to take them to the country for holidays, but no one comes for Momo. He wants to know his mother but realizes that Madame Rosa is the only mother that he will ever know. He longs for an identity and for love. Madame Rosa relies on him, and when his father, Monsieur Kadir Youssef, does come to see him eleven years after leaving him with Madame Rosa, she is thrown into such a panic by the possibility of losing the child that she lies and insults the father, who dies of a heart seizure from the frustration of the scene. Momo remains with Madame Rosa, loving and caring for her until her death in her bizarre “country home.” As the story ends, it seems that a truly happy life with a family is about to begin for Momo.

Following the great success of the novel in France, Publisher’s Weekly succeeded in arranging an interview with the elusive author. Ajar talked of his first novel, Gros-Câlin, saying that it is “a book about loneliness, just as Momo is about loneliness. It should be important for critics because it contains my other two books.” In Gros-Câlin, the principal character dealt with his loneliness by sharing his home with a python. The third novel, Pseudo, is “a fanciful version of everything that happened to Ajar after the publication of Momo.

In Momo, the principal characters are either lonely or isolated. Momo is certainly of the first group. The oldest and longest tenured of the boarders, he longs for friends of his own age and for motherly love. Monsieur Hamil, a retired...

(The entire section is 1071 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Library Journal. CIII, April 1, 1978, p. 773.

New Republic. CLXXVIII, April 22, 1978, p. 34.

New York Times Book Review. April 2, 1978, p. 15.

New Yorker. LIV, April 10, 1978, p. 143.

Saturday Review. V, March 4, 1978, p. 31.