A slim French street-tale in which the English translator (the esteemed Ralph Manheim) becomes the star--and that means you'll be a bit too aware of each passing phrase to get the fullest possible emotional impact from this raw but quietly moving conte. What makes the translation such a challenge and such a focus is the idiomatic, fractured-grammar voice of half-Arab narrator Momo, who's either ten or fourteen years old (depending) and senior resident at old Madame Rosa's seventh floor walk-up nursery for ""kids who weren't necessary and hadn't managed to get abortioned in time""--children of prostitutes. Somberly cynical but sensitive, foul-mouthed but clean-hearted, Momo wanders the streets with an umbrella-doll he calls Arthur (""He's not a pal, he's an umbrella"") or sits in nice Dr. Katz's waiting room, sticking to his no-hope philosophy: ""Happiness is a mean son of a bitch and needs to be put in his place. Him and me aren't on the same team, and I'm cutting him dead."" (See what we mean about those idioms?) But Momo can't quite get around his feelings for obese, half-mad, dying Madame Rosa, who has lied about his age in order to hold onto him, who has shown him the secret cellar ""Jewish hideaway"" she keeps for fear of being taken back to the concentration camp she survived. Mimop cleans and nurses her, humors her through her fits, and arranges for the four Zaoum brothers (Piano movers) to carry her down six flights for some air. But what can he do when she's about to be taken to the hospital, where she might become the ""world's champion vegetable"" instead of dying decently? Ajar's achievement may be a small one--inevitably losing something in even this fine tales, and it stares it's polished, it's not cutely sentimental like so many similar tales, and it stares hard at you with the c'est la vie reality of cold stew and soiled sheets.