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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Hen Who Dreamed
She Could Fly

Hwang Sun-mi

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To purchase The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

Title: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Author: Hwang Sun-mi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 134 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly - US
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly - UK
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly - Canada
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly - India
La poule qui voulait vivre sa vie - France
  • Korean title: 마당을 나온 암탉
  • Translated Chi-Young Kim
  • With illustrations by Nomoco

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Our Assessment:

B : simple tale, quite nicely done/presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 26/8/2013 .
Toronto Star A 20/12/2013 Dimitri Nasrallah

  From the Reviews:
  • "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." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is, in its physical brevity and philosophic heft, a note-perfect masterstroke of a novella that captures the contemporary indignation we often accept in tempering our own ambitions, so that we can at least lead undramatic lives." - Dimitri Nasrallah, Toronto Star

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a simple story. The central character is a chicken who calls herself Sprout -- a name she gave herself, "the best name in the world" because of what it suggests, which reflects her aspirations: "Sprout wanted to do something with her life". Sprout is an egg-laying hen, and her greatest desire is to hatch one of her eggs, but that's impossible in the coop she's cooped up in.
       Sprout has enough, and stops laying eggs -- leading to her quickly getting culled. With a little help, she survives what is meant to be the end of the line for her, and finds herself in freedom. She's not welcome in the animal-barn, where another hen already rules the limited roost, but she's willing to try to stick it out in the great (but not entirely safe) outdoors.
       Sprout sees herself defined by her egg-laying role, and she finds herself plagued by the dilemma:

If I can't lay an egg, what's the point of my life ?
       But it's not egg-laying per se that that she longs for -- been there, done that for long enough, after all, and it led nowhere -- but rather maternity. She wants to hatch an egg -- and while she can't hatch one of her own she does come to find an egg to hatch, one whose parents were lost to the mortal enemy she too constantly has to worry about, a weasel.
       Sprout hatches her adopted egg, which turns out to be a duckling, and while she has the opportunity to hand it over to the barn-ducks she prefers to continue in the protective mother-role.
       Will the duck be accepted by other ducks ? Can they escape the weasel ? Will the duck go its own way, or will it join the other flightless ones in the barn ? How much will Sprout have to sacrifice for the good of her not-quite-offspring ? Will she have to -- or be able to ... -- let go ? So many questions, so much drama.
       Well, okay, not that much drama. Or rather: bedtime-story-level drama, since The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a book that's as much for the kids as anyone (and divided into conveniently bedtime-story-sized chapter-chunks). But, yes, Hwang's story offers a bit of excitement -- danger lurks constantly -- and is, of course, affecting. Sprout is the devoted mama who will do anything for her young, which of course tugs at the heartstrings. (Other aspects are a bit more problematic, in particular that the exemplary mother isn't welcome in any of the local communities, as both the barn animals and the large flock of wild ducks resolutely defend their own turf and are anything but welcoming or inclusive.)
       It's a nice enough story about maternal devotion and sacrifice -- though the conclusion might be a bit much to take even for the youngsters who think they are eager to leave the nest. The US/UK Penguin edition isn't published as a true kids' book either -- a fancy deckle-edged paperback seems definitely designed with an eye to the adult market -- but it is a bit simple for mature readers. Still, it's nicely done (and nicely presented, with the simple black-line-drawings by Nomoco (plus a touch of color on the cover)), and a well-told, moving little story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 November 2013

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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South Korean author Hwang Sun-mi (황선미) was born in 1963.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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