Book review: 'The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly', by Hwang Sun-mi

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 November, 2013, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 4:44pm

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
by Hwang Sun-mi (translated by Kim Chi-young)
4 stars

John Kang

A bestseller in South Korea with more than two million copies sold, this is also a nominee for next month's Indie Next List's Great Reads from Booksellers You Trust. And it is about an egg-laying hen.

You may be curious to know how a book about a chicken can become so popular in one of the most competitive and stressful societies in the world, a place where people are so obsessed with being trendy and looking attractive.

The original Korean title translates as The Hen That Escaped From the Farm, and the novel teaches many things about animals and nature.

What's most striking is that egg-laying hens are the only animals on a farm that will never have a baby and experience motherhood, despite laying hundreds of eggs in their lifetime.

All animals, like the hen in the story, are driven to reproduce. But because of we humans' desire for more and more eggs, we have manipulated chickens to produce unfertilised eggs.

Even if they are fowl, shouldn't all females have the right to experience motherhood?

The protagonist is a hen whose dream is to hatch an egg and become a mother. Her adventure starts when one day she can no longer produce eggs. She is removed from the farm and thrown into the wild. In these new circumstances she learns many things, such as how to survive and about social class. She also finds an abandoned egg.

The hen sits on the egg to keep it warm, and a chick (a male) finally emerges, and she experiences the motherhood she has longed for so much - to disapproval from the other animals.

But the hen keeps her little rooster safe until he is old enough to leave her side. Although her motherhood is short-lived, she knows the core of maternal life, which is sacrifice.

To me, the hen represents Korean mothers - all mothers, really - because of the sacrifices she makes. She devotes herself to her baby even though life is tough enough just taking care of herself.

One part of the story which I feel exemplifies a mother's sacrifice is when the hen must sever a cord that is wrapped around her chick's foot, trapping him. In the middle of the winter night, tired from evading hunters and while her baby sleeps, the mother pecks at the rope all night to free him.

This episode reminds me of my mother. When I was young, my mother always got up late at night to check on me even though she worked full-time. She would change my sweat-drenched T-shirt while I was sleeping. When I woke up, I always had a fresh, dry tee on.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is aimed at young readers but it should appeal to adults, especially mothers and mothers-to-be. For the sons and daughters who want a glimpse of motherhood, this book should have universal appeal.