The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang tr. Chi-Young Kim

This book is proof that it is not just reviews and the recommendations of friends that help us choose which book to read next, that an excellent cover and title coupled with an alluring blurb can suffice to motivate that impulse.

The HenThe cover made me pause and the promise of an inspiring fable in a short piece of internationally acclaimed translated fiction sounded enticing enough, but the discovery that the author Sun-mi Hwang had herself overcome the obstacle of childhood poverty and found a way to educate herself to achieve her dream to read and write sealed it.

Like Margarita Engle’s novel in verse The Wild Book and Tove Jansson’s Summer and Winter Book’s, sometimes a mood enhancing book is just what we need to bring ourselves back to life’s simple values for encouragement and reassurance.

The story revolves around ‘Sprout’, a battery hen frustrated with her caged life laying eggs in a sloping wire cage which causes her eggs to roll away, enabling the farmer to conveniently collect them to sell. She hatches a plan to escape, seeking a life outside the barn where others animals appear to roam free and where she feels it most likely to be able to achieve her dream of nurturing an egg to life.

Along the way we meet the old dog that guards the barn, the rooster who crows in the morning, the yard hen, a community of ducks and the lone hungry weasel.

“Whenever she saw the yard hen, Sprout couldn’t stand it – she felt even more confined in her wire cage. She too wanted to dig through the pile of compost with the rooster, walk side by side with him, and sit on her eggs.”

010113_1257_AMonthinthe2.jpgSprout escapes the coop and directs all her energy into survival. She learns who her friends are and who to be wary of.

She discovers the perceptions that govern the role each animal is set to play.

“Yes, you’re both hens, but you’re different. How do you not know that? Just like I’m a gatekeeper and the rooster announces the morning, you’re supposed to lay eggs in a cage. Not in the yard! Those are the rules.”

No fairy tale, this is fable at its best, confronting the reality of stepping outside the role society has dictated (even if nature has not divined) and showing that while achieving the goal can be possible, it is a route fraught with challenges. Reminiscent of Orwell’s Animal Farm or Adams Watership DownSun-mi Hwang brings us her perception of society through characters that we recognise with our own interpretation and reminds us that even the most far-fetched dreams are worth pursuing, no matter what the odds.

We read with trepidation and a strong desire, not so much for Sprout to succeed in her quest, but to survive. It is a delightful and touching story, deserving of its success.

Note: The book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

40 thoughts on “The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang tr. Chi-Young Kim

  1. This is another of those I’d never have given a second look. I get so many recommendations on your blog and you take me on reading journeys I’d never have started otherwise. As ever I liked your review – your phrase “mood enhancing book……to bring ourselves back to life’s simple values” is very true! I like the sound of this book so it’s one for my ever-growing Christmas list I think! I will justify the expense by remembering that I am mood enhancing by buying it!!!


  2. As an ex-bookseller I know how important covers and blurbs can be. I remember my heart sinking when a book I felt passionately about came saddled with a bland jacket or a blurb stuffed with cliches. This cover looks lovely and your review suggests it fits the book well. I don’t think it’s published in the UK so it looks like an online purchase for me!


    • Thanks for mentioning that Susan, I realise I was reading the US Penguin version which was published at the end of November. I can’t seem to find out when the UK version will be published but the author will be in the UK on 9 April 2014, in honour of Korea as The London Book Fair’s Market Focus 2014. So I expect it should be out in time for that, but it would make an excellent Christmas read. I remember last year reading Lost Cat and thinking the same thing, but that too came out after Christmas. For cat lovers it’s the perfect gift.

      You can read my review post Lost Cat, Found Humour here if you are interested – it’s an amusing read and beautifully illustrated.


  3. Claire, thank you yet again for sharing a book I don’t believe I would have found otherwise. The fable sounds delightful and the author’s personal story seals the deal for me. (You know I’m all about personal journeys!) ❤


  4. Love books with a character intent on seeking something better. Beth Orton wrote and performed a song with lyrics never far from my heart. “Sometimes I swim beyond the scenery…” from Paris Train. Look beyond.


    • Me too Nelle, I like to witness the struggle, the perseverance and the acceptance of having reached the achievement without being corrupted by the desire for more. This story also demonstrates developing detachment (in the Buddhist sense), that letting go that we all must learn, yet with the utmost compassion. Wonderful.


  5. Beautiful review of a beautiful book, Claire! I totally want to read it! I will be praying (till I read the book) that Sprout succeeds in her quest. Thanks for introducing me to this beautiful book and this new-to-me writer.


  6. I perhaps, in the Christmas rush, have judged this book by its cover and let my eyes slide over it…now I will be seeking it out to the detriment of all the other equally worthy books. The layered tone of the book makes this for a potential classic….thank you so much for yet another introduction to a fascinating book.

    By the way Christina finished 1Q84 and loved it…The Light Between Ocenas is also on our shelf to be read at some point, which is coincidentally the first book i ever saw in America and one that I instantly picked up thanks to your review.


    • You are one of the fortunate as this book came out late November in the US, so I hope you can track it down.

      Yes, I received a delightful acknowledgement from Christina, who tracked down my original post on 19Q4, and I recall on one of your other posts, spotting the excellent cover of the version you both had.

      I hope you enjoy The Light Between Oceans, it’s got great character, wonderful passages of writing and an excellent depiction of young returned war veterans which I believe rivals J.L.Carr’s equally poignant A Month in the Country.


      • I do love A Month in the Country…such a wonderful piece of work. I look forward to devouring many more books in the coming months….although i do hope to read them first.

        I will add The Hen to my list of books I must have…that list will now be taking the form of sturdy cardboard which will remain in my bulging (with receipts) wallet.

        I was proud to show C. your blog and mention that you had reviewed Murikami and now we are always looking at other Murikami works…on top of so much other stuff, it’s ridiculous, although i am still underwhelmed with the choice of the bookshops…I shall not complain though.


    • Thank you, I’m looking forward to being in good company, it’s one volume that I am sure will benefit from being read with a group of supportive readers. And my first read-along, so thanks for inspiring it to happen! I hope others seeing it here will join in too.


  7. Oh, this sounds like a beautiful fable. Just my kind of book. Have you ever read any Paul Gallico: The Snowgoose or Snowflake? I’m positive you’d love them. Thanks for the tip off ! I might have to peruse this one myself…


    • Thanks for those recommendations, I really do have a thing for certain fables, probably why I love novels like The Snow Child and am considering reading Patrick Ness’s The Crane Wife; with that right combination of writer and fable, magic often happens 🙂


  8. Yes! I saw this in a bookstore, picked it up because of its cute cover. From your review, this is another wise parable, makes me think of Jonathan Livingston Seagull back in the old, old days. 😉


  9. Pingback: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly- Hwang Sun-mi | Lucybird's Book Blog

  10. Pingback: Not All Her Eggs In One Basket!…………..The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang | THE ONLY WAY IS READING

  11. Pingback: Book Review – The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang | Vishy's Blog

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