A beautiful book. Have to admit, I teared up several times while reading it. It’s soulful, poetic, heart-rending, melancholic, yet triumphant.
One is instantly connected to the lead character, Spout, an egg-laying hen whose soul desire is to hatch an egg of her own:
“She had no desire to lay another egg. Her heart emptied of feeling every time the farmer’s wife took her eggs…She couldn’t so much as touch her own eggs, not even with the tip of her foot, And she didn’t know what happened to them after the farmer’s wife carried them in her basket out of the coop.”
Sprout fantasizes about a jolly life out in the open, frolicking in the fields, mingling with the other barnyard animals and birds, and becoming a mother. A day comes when she falls sick and is unable to lay eggs. Useless to the farmer, she is thrown into the “Hole of death” for the weasel to devour. Luckily, she survives and is coaxed out of the pit by a mallard duck, the only barn occupant who befriends her but being at the bottom of the pecking order is unable to help her as she gets kicked out of the barn by the others.
Henceforth begins a daunting and adventurous journey for Sprout; a journey best explained in the meaning of her name:
“Sprout is the best name in the world. A sprout grew into a leaf and embraced the wind and the sun before falling and rotting and turning into mulch for bringing fragrant flowers into bloom.”
As she sadly leaves the barn, she soon discovers an abandoned egg, fulfils her dreams of hatching one, and spends the rest of her life defending her “baby” from the weasel. Interestingly, like most readers I presume, I looked at the relationship between the hen and her baby as successfully capturing the essence of motherhood; however, the South Korean author, Sun-Mi Hwang says she drew inspiration from her impression of her dad.
Written as a children’s book, it was observed with skepticism as the lead character is killed off at the end.
“And then, like a feather, she was aloft. Gliding through the air with her large, beautiful wings, Sprout looked down at everything below—the reservoir and the fields in a snowstorm, and the weasel limping away, a scrawny hen dangling from her jaws.”
Elucidating on this, the author in an interview opines, “Sprout did everything she wanted to in life. She went out and saw the world. It was hard, but she raised a child like she wanted to. She went up against everything one can in life and persevered. You can’t call that a sad ending. I wrote it believing that all things die. We don’t accept that as sad.”
I definitely recommend this book to every adult. Only 134 pages long, grab your tea mug, a blanket, and read away.
(Don’t forget to keep a box of tissues at hand).