What a sweet book! Sprout is an egg-laying hen who longs to be free to frolic around the fields. She is no longer producing good enough eggs, so the farmer leaves her out to die. She is saved by a duck named Straggler and her dream of freedom is realised, but it is not as she thought.
This book was published in South Korea in 2000 and apparently was in the bestseller charts there for ten years! It has only recently been translated into English and was published here this year. It’s a short book, very much like a fable. It feels very reminiscent of human life even though its cast is birds, a dog and a weasel. The language that the chickens and ducks use to justify their rejection of Straggler and Sprout as outsiders is reminiscent of the various techniques humans use when they don’t want to be around somebody different:
‘You’re an egg-laying hen. You need to lay eggs in the coop!’
Sprout is a well-rounded character. It’s easy to see why this was so popular in South Korea because it’s a book that adults and children can enjoy. Children would obviously enjoy a story like this, but the interesting thing for me was Sprout’s journey was an entirely adult one. She wanted to escape her life when she was trapped in a cage, she survived on her wiles, and she bought up a baby in adverse conditions. When Sprout finally has to say goodbye to her baby, Sun-Mi Hwang addresses the complex emotions that a mother experiences. This book is deceptively simple.
The weasel poses a very real and lingering threat in the book, but it’s one that is ultimately understood by Sprout. Sprout realises that the weasel just needs food to survive and that she is that food. The book provides an interesting rumination on life and death; an interesting blurring of the concepts of right and wrong.
‘I’ve spent my entire life running away from you. You have no idea how exhausted and sad I’ve been.’ / ‘I don’t believe it!’ the weasel retorted. ‘You’re the luckiest hen alive! I’ve never been able to catch you. You’ve done so many things. I’m the exhausted one.’
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a lovely book which could be enjoyed by people of all ages, and, evidently, people all over the world. I hope this book gets an audience in the English-speaking world because it deserves it.