Just because a book has a cast of animals doesn’t mean it’ll be a light read. Anyone who has read George Orwell’s Animal Farm will tell you that; anyone who has read Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood will persuade you otherwise, too. Today’s pick, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang, rightly fits this category, and like the others, shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to your reading list.
The story goes. We follow Sprout, a hen. Sweet at heart, kind in mind. No longer happy with laying eggs for the farmers, no longer content with the horrid routine, she plans her escape, to venture beyond the fence and live in the wild. There, she hopes to hatch her own egg, to make some friends, and to achieve some joy and independence in her short life. It’s no easy task, and Sprout finds herself prey to the relentless Weasel, who lurks her every night, forcing Sprout to forever sleep with one eye open.
From the surface, it certainly seems a simple story – and you’d be right to assume so. This isn’t a deep read, nor is it a book to pry apart and poke and analyse. It’s one that fulfils a basic goal: to captivate, to hold your attention for ~140 pages, to take you on a little journey on the life of an ambitious hen.
What really makes this book is the prose – there’s so little to it. Brilliantly translated from the Korean text by Chi-Young Kim, who retains Hwang’s voice and style, there’s absolutely no fluff or clutter; Hwang has found the exact words and has made this an effortless read. However, that’s not to imply it’s a vanilla narrative – it’s moving, emotional, and refreshingly original. There’s twists and turns and with the hugely varied cast of animals and their quirks and habits, this has the flavour of a new age parable.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly makes this weeks Nesbit Likes because it’s simplistic yet gripping gravity. I was fooled to think the brevity would mean it to be a quick read to absorb a plane or train journey. This story has long ago found its way through my own writing and it’s become a huge inspiration for its core simplicity, for its resonating morale on friendship and sacrifice. You may need a box of tissues for this one.
Sprout is a rich character of courage and strength, and her journey is one that will surely echo with any reader. It’s beautiful, it’s sweet, there’s humour and there’s tragedy, wonderfully harmonised in modest writing.
I think it’s most appropriate to say that this is a special little book and certainly one for you to add to your list.