There is a bit of a trend in libraries these days to display recommended books on designated shelves to help out the indecisive library-goers who want something to read but have no idea what. I always find something there that catches my eye and recently it was The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly *** by Sun-Mi-Hwang.
The blurb on the inside cover read:
“This is the story of a hen named Sprout. No longer content to lay eggs on command, only to have them carted off to the market, she glimpses her future every morning through the barn doors, where the other animals roam free, and comes up with a plane to escape into the wild – and to hatch an egg of her own.”
It sounds exactly like the books I like to read and it didn’t disappoint. I actually read it in one sitting, which I very rarely do, but it was only 133 pages so it’s an easy read. Sprout is an instantly sympathetic character – an animal whose natural fundamental desires are thwarted by capitalist exploitation. The book has a lot to say about the conditions of farmyard animals but from a perspective I hadn’t considered before: that while some are relatively well treated (the free range chickens) and some treated badly (the battery hens), both are denied their basic instinct for motherhood.
This is an existential problem.
Sprout manages to escape and lives a while in the farmyard, which from the unpleasant conditions of the coop she had idealised; now outside she finds a strict hierarchical society that excludes her. She makes a friend with another outsider, a wild duck named Straggler, who is also marginalised due to his injured wing and ‘otherness’.
Sprout escapes to the fields, where she finds an egg that she is compelled to look after until the mother returns. She doesn’t return, but Straggler does, and he guards and protects her throughout the incubation. I’ll stop there as I don’t want to give away any more of the plot.
There are obvious parallels with Animal Farm but it is not political in the same way. This novel is about motherhood, the exploitation of fertility, and the hidden internal world of sentient creatures. Vegans and animal rights activists will find this novel very interesting but it is also an allegorical tale about the human condition and the universal desire to survive and to raise offspring.
*** FYI this is an affiliate link to the Amazon listing of this book.