What do you think of when you hear the word "fable"? Your mind might soar to Aesop's The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse or if you are prone to harrowing school flashbacks, Orwell's Animal Farm.
But unlike these examples, Sun-Mi Hwang's fabulist novel features a protagonist that we can actually get behind and cheer on - a humble and endearing little chicken called Sprout.
Sprout is by no means a one-dimensional character - through her struggles and sacrifices for motherhood, we see a vivid portrayal of the complexity of human emotion, allowing the character to transcend the simple role of a moral-inspiring creature and become her own valid being with a fierce sense of determination in a cruel and lonely world: "Just because you're the same kind doesn't mean you're all one happy family. The important thing is to understand each other."
Sprout's voice is deliberately portrayed as very plain and honest (given her upbringing as a lowly caged hen) and contrasts with the chiding voices of harsher and more arrogant animals that set the confining social expectations and standards of farmyard life. Consequently, it is through Sprout's uncomfortable interactions with these creatures that we realise the novel is an allegory for the trials and tribulations that immigrant mothers experience in a harsh and judgemental society.
Now, more than ever, exposure to such voices has become an utmost necessity as we see daily news reports featuring refugees of war and environmental disaster struggling to build nests for themselves and their children; facing hostility from governments, communities and even the very lands and seas they traverse on their arduous journeys. Therefore, having these disturbing realities presented to us in the colourful yet unforgiving backdrop of the natural world allows us to focus on humanity of a yearning mother without much political noise or confusion.
Perhaps what is most captivating about the novel is how beautiful the setting looks to the protagonist despite the hardships she faces in it - we are treated to lovely descriptions and illustrations of acacia trees which evolve and change with the seasons alongside Sprout, who tries to find hope wherever she can.
If you are still wondering why you should read a book about a chicken, know that Sprout's heart-wrenching story, full of daring escapes, sinister weasels and holes of death, has a rather magnetic quality, drawing international audiences of all ages and even inspiring a comic and popular animated film. So, if there's a moral here, it's that birds of a feather flock together and that maybe, just maybe, great minds think alike.
Thilsana Gias is an MA Creative Writing graduate from the University of Leicester and a secondary school English Teacher. She spends her days trying to find time to write and crying every time a child confuses Romeo and Juliet with Rapunzel: "Romeo, Romeo, let down your hair!"
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