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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, November 26, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, November 2013: You could read the adventures and struggles of Sprout, an egg-laying hen who escapes the coop with dreams of hatching her own chick, as a straightforward children’s book. But just like all enduring classics, peel back a few layers and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly easily transcends the just-for-kids label by deftly tackling universal themes of individuality, nurturing the young, the cycle of life and death, the meaning of friendship, and the eternal parent-child bond. This English-language translation of the best-selling Korean novel is sparse and economical as befitting the fable-like tale, allowing phrases and moments to breathe with emotion. You’ll root for Sprout as she pluckily faces the elite barnyard coterie for a place to rest her head or as she tirelessly guards her baby from a hungry, conniving weasel. Anyone who is a parent--or has ever been loved by one--will find a moment (or two) where it’s hard to keep the tears at bay. --Bora McAteer
From Publishers Weekly
The road of life is paved with hardships, even tragedy. Fate is implacable; we all must die. Yet it's possible to achieve happiness, and to make a positive contribution to humanity, if one perseveres. This is the lesson of this simply told but absorbing fable, a two million–copy bestseller in South Korea, and a story that will appeal to readers of self-help. The protagonist is a philosophically restless hen who yearns to raise a chick, but her eggs are collected daily by the farmer's wife. The hen encapsulates her longing in the name Sprout, which she gives to herself, signifying the fecundity of nature. Determined €œto do something with her life,€ Sprout escapes from her cage into the barnyard, but she's shunned by all its denizens except another outsider like herself, a mallard duck called Straggler. His lifesaving friendship enables Sprout to achieve one of her dreams: she hatches an egg she discovers in a briar patch, at first unaware that her offspring is not a chick, but a duckling. The book explores the joys of parenthood and the sacrifices required to nurture the next generation, the healing bonds of friendship, and the tug-of-war between nature and nurture. Spare but evocative line drawings by the Japanese artist Nomoco add to the subtle charm of this slim volume. B&w illus. (Nov.)
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The Hen who Dreamed she Could Fly is a modern fable for mid-graded children and adults with a young heart written by the Korean writer Hwang Sun mi.This is a short and sweet novella that you will devour in a seating. It has all the elements of any successful classic tale. For a start, the story is Universal as there are no location names nor human names, so the story could be happening anywhere, Korea, USA, or Spain. The story will also speak to any culture, religion or social class. The settings and characters are those of a traditional fable: a barn, anthropomorphic domestic animals; good, bad and evil characters; a hero, a subversion of the animal order, and an embedded moral.lesson. Unlike classic fables and folk tales, the moral lessons in this novella are very contemporary, very 21st century.
The reading of the book is far from linear as there are different layers and themes touched at the same time, which will appeal to people of different conditions, even to people who see the world very differently. Two major themes are obvious to me:
1/ NATURE SIMPLY "IS"
> Subverting nature is never going to work because Nature has a rhythm that simple "is". You can learn how Nature works to take a better advantage of it,to exploit it in a way, but you can't modify Nature itself. A gazelle would never want to eat a lion, not would be able. A man cannot eat kill a buffalo on his/her own unless s/he has a weapon, the weapon is not Nature.
> Knowing what your true nature is will save you from havoc.
> The call of the wild is an instinct that does not disappear when you tame a wild animal because their nature is just that.
> Everything in Nature makes sense, even predators and scavengers. They are not nasty or ugly beasts, they are just as hungry as cute animals are.
2/ OUR NATURE DOES NOT ALWAYS EQUAL NATURE
> We are what we decide to become.
> Nature could limit us, but we can still overcome obstacles with willpower and determination, inventive, invention, patience and resolution and achieve anything.
> Our birth family are not always those who treat us as family or those who treat us best.
> An uterus doesn't make a mother. A woman can be barren and still be a good mother, a better mother than a birthed mother.
As you see, there are some contradictory affirmations in these two main themes, and to me that was the main problem with the story, that the message was not clear enough, that it could say things that are contrary at the same time.
There are embedded questions in the story, as well, and those are the more sensitive ones:
> Does motherhood equal womanhood?
> Does being of a different race or of the same gender make a difference in being a good parent? Said differently, can a mother from a race or gender that is not that the one one was born make a difference in your growing up?
> Is surrogacy OK?
> Does Nature define your nature?
> What is more cruel, the cruelty of Nature or subverting Nature for the sake of personal fulfilment?
Eventually, what you will enjoy the most about the book is the emotions that this foolish mother of a hen brings in you. Interracial and inter-religious couples will find their struggle reflected in this fable. The same will happen to same-sex parents. Any struggling single mother will cry at finding her harshness and devotion reflected. Foster-care mothers will see themselves reflected. The book will also touch non-mothers because the story will remind them of the abnegation, love and willingness to overcome obstacles that some mothers have, perhaps their own.
The characters are well drawn. The weasel is my favourite as s/he knows who s/he is, his/her place in Nature, and doesn't apologise for whom s/he is, what other people think of his/her way of life or the hatred s/he attracts. Sprout the hen is foolish, yet we are immediately drawn to her compassion, selfless love, and the way she stands the harshness of life, even though she put herself in that position.
The ending is great. A great lesson. Because there are things in life and in Nature you cannot change or subvert, as simple as that, you like it or not.
The translation by Kim Chi-Young really flows. The language used is very simple, but I guess that was intentional in the original as this book is mainly addressed to children. Yet, sometimes I found some wording that was a bit off to me, probably because English is not my first language. However, there is one occasion that the word of choice seemed not appropriate.
One of the sentences reads "She tried not to lose consciousness, wondering what was happening." (Loc. 64).
I thought that a talking hen would have never used this expression because hens simply don't have consciousness, something one can easily put aside because this is a fable. However, talking in the third person of a hen, I would have said simply "not to faint." I thought, this would be easier to understand for children as well. This is, of course, a very personal appreciation.
I love the black-and-white minimalist illustrations by Japanese artist Kazuko Nomoto's (aka Nomoco's), who is also the author of the paperback and hardcover's covers. There are very few illustrations in the book, just at the beginning of each chapter, and a flower motif at the end of each chapter. I thought there was room for more illustrations, and that the book would have benefited from more.
As happens with other Korean books that become popular in the West, senseless comparisons to English-speaking novels immediately sprout or are summoned: Animal Farm: Reader's Edition and Charlotte's Web. Totally senseless! Those novels have nothing in common with this book except for the fact that they have animal characters in a farm. I have never read Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A story, which is another book frequently mentioned, so I cannot comment on that. Personally, the only influences that came to mind when reading it were Aesop's Fables (Illustrated)s, the The Ugly Duckling (Illustrated), but these books are quite different in mood and message from all of those.
This book is not for small children and needs of parental supervision as deals with themes that aren't easily accessible to children. I would not give it or read it to a small children, unless they are older than 6y.o.a.
Although you can easily individuate and zoom in the illustrations, the images are not very big, they don't fit the full page in my tablet. When you double-tap and individuate the image, this is still a bit small, even if you zoom it by pinch it out, and is not neat enough. This could be easily solved in the Kindle edition, so the image can be zoomed without losing quality and zoomed in more.
I can see why the book is so beloved in Korea and is finding an audience around the globe. Comparisons to classics such Charlotte's Web seem overblown to me, but I have a hunch the translation may be responsible for my giving this sweet story one star less than I would otherwise have. It is a serviceable translation, but surely the original must have had richer language for the book to have hit the mark for so many people. Still, it is a lovely story to add to that small shelf of tales that use animals to reflect on the human condition.