Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang: A Review

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang, translated by Kim-Chi Young
Isn't this a beautiful edition?  The cover illustrations are by Nomoco and I purchased it during the Black Friday sale over at The Book Outlet.  It is a super short read if you are looking for a quickie - no pun intended!

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a modern Korean fable about a hen named Sprout.  Sprout is an egg-laying hen for a farmer and his wife; however, she is no longer able to lay eggs.  After a few days of no eggs, she decides that she simply does not want to and refuses to do so.  Sprout dreams of actually being able to sit on one of her eggs some day, a fertile egg, and be able to watch it hatch into a chick for which she can look after.  She looks out of the coop longingly, planning her escape into the big world outside.  Unfortunately for Sprout, her freedom comes with the culling of the sickly hens, and she soon faces death the moment she is freed from the coop - the weasel.  Through a series of fortunate events, Sprout at last finds herself free but at a cost.  The plucky young hen finally makes in out into the beautiful farm yard but is now an outsider, rejected by the rest of the barnyard creatures until she is befriended by an outcast mallard named Straggler.  He helps Sprout on her journey to freedom, motherhood, and individuality.  *SPOILERS* Straggler is wild duck whose wings have been clipped so he can no longer fly away, and the rest of the ducks consider him a disease.  One day, Sprout finds that Straggler has found a mate in the brace who is quickly killed by the villain of this tale - the weasel.  The weasel usually waits on the culling of hens to satisfy her appetite, but she can't resist a young duck who has wondered away from the brace.  Sprout runs to the scene of the crime to find a single egg sitting alone in the middle of a nest.  Her instinctive nature tells her to sit on the egg immediately to keep it warm until its mother returns, only the poor creature's mother never will return.  Sprout finally convinces herself that she is sitting on a chicken's egg and it is now her child for which to care.  Straggler comes upon her sitting on the egg one day and says nothing; however, from that day on, he stays up every night making an awful noise to keep the weasel at bay until the egg can hatch.  In the end, he gives up his life to the weasel in order to save Sprout and the egg.  When the egg hatches, Sprout learns about his sacrifice - the baby is Straggler's duckling!  Sprout dedicates the rest of her life to take care of the young duckling, which she names Greentop.  She takes her adoptive son back to the farmyard and spends the next few months trying to get the other ducks to accept him while Greentop himself faces an identity crisis of being a duck raised by a hen.  In addition to his obvious differences, Greentop isn't like the rest of the ducks.  He inherited the wilderness through his father and the skies come calling to him.  The barnyard ducks want him to stay, but Greentop is called to fly south when the winter comes and brings with it a new brace of wild ducks.  He feels at home with them, but he is also considered an outcast among their group as well.  He struggles with where he belongs as the ducks teach him how to fly, swim, and catch fish like they do.  Unfortunately, his struggles do not end there.  The weasel considers Greentop to be the meal that got away, and she doesn't handle losing very easily.  She dedicates her like to pursuing him, and Sprout will protect her son by every means necessary.  As Greentop bids his mother farewell and prepares to leave with his new brace, Sprout and the weasel have one final showdown that costs Sprout her life.  As she's dying, she feels free and imagines herself flying at last.

This story was extremely depressing.  There were several identifiable tropes that made the story beautiful, but it was still awfully sad.  I imagine it is incredibly beautiful when read in Korean, but you tend to lose a lot of the figurative language in translation.  That being said, I gave this book a solid 4.0/5.0 on Goodreads.  I enjoyed the story for what it was.  Sprout was a plucky chicken who overcame adversity in her world and even her own body to gain her freedom and experience motherhood.  She is so full of love and willing to risk everything for it.  I loved that little chicken.

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