Review of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly; Sun-Mi-Hwang, Translation by Chi-Young Kim, Illustrations by Nomoco; Penguin USA 2013 (published in Korean in 2000); Rs 299; pp 134
– Shana Susan Ninan
If the English translation had been published two years ago, and I’d read it then, the effect it had on me would have been different. Having experienced birth pangs and then blissfully enjoying motherhood, now I can relate to Sprout the hen much better. The protagonist is an egg-laying hen, cooped up in a box that’s home to her. Laying an egg doesn’t mean that the hen gets to hatch it. Her eggs are taken away by the farmer’s wife, minutes after she laid them, warm and still soft.
Sprout (a name that the hen gave herself) has just one dream – to hatch an egg, to hold the baby dear to her heart. The story is about her will to realise this dream. Her struggles include having to escape the coop, facing the barnyard animals headed by the rooster and guarded by the dog, sleeping on the fringes of the farm almost falling prey to the weasel and finally, accepting the fact that the Baby she hatched isn’t one of her own, or might never look or feel like she does.
Human emotions and egos find life in the animals and birds in the plot. Avarice, hatred, low self-esteem, pride, jealousy, complacency, tolerance, love, grief, sacrifice… and more. Pointing a finger at the authoritarian mindset and system of the country, Hwang reveals much about the nation through the characters in her book. This is the first novel of the author I’m reading, and I hadn’t even heard about her earlier. I was casually ordering books online when this book popped up and reviews called it the South Korean version of Animal Farm. And, in a way, it is. Though more poetic and empathising than Orwell’s work. A little grim at times, and horrifically visual, Hwang’s work reflects Korean society and people.
The illustrations are typical of a person wielding the graceful calligraphy brush. And after Googling the name, yes my instincts were right – Nomoco is a Japanese artist and illustrator. Thoroughly enjoyed the book! A classic worth reading and sharing.