Published to great success in Korea, Hwang’s short novel is an adroit allegory about life.
Sprout’s a caged laying hen on a small farm. Sprout yearns for freedom, for a chance to mother one of the eggs taken from her. She has given herself the name Sprout because she "wanted to do something with her life, just like the sprouts on the acacia tree," something she only sees in her rare glimpses of the world outside flourishing in the barnyard. In her discontent, Sprout grows morose, frail, only to find herself culled from the flock and tossed into the "Hole of Death." Sprout, near suffocation, hears a warning from Straggler, a stray mallard duck tagging along with the farm’s other ducks. She’s in danger of being scavenged by a weasel. That night, Sprout slips into the barn with the other farm animals, but she’s shunned. The lonely Sprout decides to follow Straggler and one of the other ducks out beyond the farm. The other duck is killed, but Sprout finds her egg. With brave Straggler standing watch for the deadly weasel, Sprout broods the egg, thinking, "My dreams are coming true." But after the egg hatches, she begins to comprehend that Baby, as she calls him, will grow to become Greentop, a duckling with his own destiny. Hwang has penned an anthropomorphic allegory with allusions to prejudice, to sacrifice and to the recognition of destiny, a fable in the vein of classics like Charlotte’s Web and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Hwang’s story of Sprout also speaks of family and love, of courage and loss, and of the value of the individual in the face of mindless conformity. Translator Kim does stellar work in rendering the tale into colloquial English, and the narrative is decorated with minimalist pen-and-ink drawings from the Japanese artist Nomoco.
A subtle morality tale that will appeal to readers of all ages.