Earlier this year, Yasmine Rose wrote an intriguing review about The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang, and I noted at the time that it took over a decade to get this book translated and published outside of South Korea. I thought it would be perfect to read for Women in Translation month (#WITMonth). I was not disappointed.
This short novel is the whimsical tale of Sprout, an egg-laying hen who is not your ordinary chicken. After all, she is the only animal in this book who has named itself:
“Sprout was the best name in the world. A sprout grew into a leaf and embraced the wind and the sun before falling and rotting and turning into mulch for bringing fragrant flowers into bloom. Sprout wanted to do something with her life, just like the sprouts on the acacia tree. That was why she’d named herself after them. Nobody called her Sprout, and she knew her life wasn’t like a sprout’s, but still the name made her feel good.”
Her one big wish in life is to hatch an egg of her own. From her cage, Sprout can catch glimpses of the barnyard, and she yearns for the freedom and happiness that the animals there seem to enjoy. She is envious of the “native Korean hen” that lives with the rooster and gets to hatch her eggs. When Sprout gets culled from the coop and left for dead, it is only with the help of Straggler, a stray mallard duck, that she is able to escape the “Hole of Death” and a hungry weasel. Straggler brings her to the barn, but the animals there only reluctantly let her stay for one night. Sprout realizes that the barnyard is not as idyllic as it seemed when viewed from the coop. However, Sprout is undeterred and despite warnings and ridicule, she decides to live in the wild.
Though unable to lay another egg herself, one day she finds an egg and since the mother is not returning, she decides to take care of it. Her biggest dream is coming true: she is hatching an egg. Against all odds, Sprout and her Baby survive. It is not easy, but Sprout’s love and determination are strong enough to face adversity, realize that freedom can bring hard choices, and accept her baby’s destiny.
For such a small book, this tale tackles a wide variety of subjects: conformity and individuality; friendship and love; sacrifice, courage, and loss. However, the ideas in this book are conveyed gently, with prose that is simple, yet by no means simplistic. In the end, Sprout doesn’t even realize how aptly she has named herself, as her comparison to the acacia tree sprout comes full circle. What a lovely book!