By Suma Varughese
The Hen who Dreamed she could Fly, By Sun-Mi Hwang, Penguin, INR 175, 134 pages
This utterly delightful story is an international best-seller which has sold more than two million copies. Its author, Sun-Mi Hwang of South Korea, is a beloved writer in her homeland. It is not surprising why, for the tale she has written goes deep into our bones, stirring our own deepest feelings, while nudging us towards the truths of life.
It all begins with a dream. Sprout, a little egg-laying hen in a Korean farm, has just one dream – to be able to hatch one of the eggs she lays but cannot even touch because her coop is so designed as to roll the egg to the other side the moment it is laid.
As she reaches the end of her egg-laying days, and illness overwhelms her, the owners dump her into a pit along with other diseased fowls. It would appear that her dream is doomed, but dreams have a power of their own, and little Sprout astonishes herself and the other barn animals by not only escaping from the Pit of Death, but also by giving the wily weasel waiting to pounce on her, the slip. And so begins her new life.
Pushed out by the barn animals, Sprout leaves the farm, an outsider forced to eke her days on her own. One day, she spies an egg with no mother. Sprout sits on the egg thinking she would warm it till its real mother came along. When no mother does, she recognizes that her dream is coming true – she is going to be a mother – and so she does, only to discover that the baby is actually a duckling.
One cannot help but be moved by the little hen’s great heart. The way Sprout cares for her baby, uncaring that it is of a different species, fights to save it from all dangers that threaten it, the sacrifices she makes, and the sheer scale of her devotion and love elevate her to the level of a hero. This beautifully luminous tale has the poignance and power of a myth. There are elements in it of the eternal hero’s journey – the exile, the journey into the unknown, the new life, redemption and growth. There is also the fight with evil in the form of the weasel, whose sinister designs on her and her baby hang like a shadow over the book. Perhaps it is the way that she reconciles with this evil that gives this book its soul.
Read this book to get in touch with your inner Sprout, waiting to fly free.
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