Sun-Mi Hwang’s The Hen Who Believed She Could Fly was a runaway bestseller for its Korean author, who had previously published more than 50 books and was surprised to find her work such a phenomenon, not only in Korea but beyond.

Abacus - Hachette, 2016

Abacus – Hachette, 2016

The Dog Who Dared to Dream is poised to experience a similar success, building on the model of a tenacious and determined heroine, who is facing and overcoming challenging odds. (The English translation is by Chi-Young Kim.)

If Oprah’s original bookclub was still on offer, both Sprout and Scraggly would fit her bill for heroines! There would be merchandising galore, everything from badges to buttons, collars to clothing.

In interview regarding the success of Sprout’s story, Sun-Mi Hwang commented on the trends in different responses to her fable-like story, from Korean readers and readers living elsewhere.

“People whom I met in Korea asked questions that are directly related to the book’s content, such as if there was any actual model that I had in mind for the lead character when I began the book project or how valuable it is for me compared with my other publications,” she said during a recent interview with ‘The Korea Times’ in Seoul.” (Interview with “The Korea Times”, October 2015)

One could imagine these questions being transposed to reader’s wonderment about whether Scraggly the dog’s character was related to someone in the author’s experience (her father influenced Sprout’s story and character development apparently).

“Meanwhile, Hwang said, the book seemed to have served as the world’s window to Korea, as many foreign readers are not too familiar with Korean society. During her book tours, she said that foreign readers focused on questions about whether the journey of the hen, Sprout, into the wild was her way of encouraging people to overcome the social and cultural restrictions of the Korean society.”

The Dog Who Dared to Dream contains eighteen-chapters, each short and written in spare prose. Readers meet Scraggly at birth and although some other family members (four-legged and two-legged) are significant at the start, it is truly Scraggly’s story as the tale unfolds.

At times, it is inescapably a story about a dog, particularly when Scraggly recognizes a barrier which is only a barrier to those without hands, only paws (say, for instance, a chain with a collar attached, which a human could simply undo to face a challenge without that restriction).

At other times, it is possible to forget that the main character is a dog, because the emotions are universal (for example, the desire to help a family member who is being threatened).

On occasion, the emotions are described in such human terms that the reader is caught between these perspectives as, for instance, when Scraggly bursts into tears. For my reading taste, I would prefer whimpers or yelps, but it’s also true that in the scenes where this situation arises, I am momentarily more concerned about what’s happening to (or near) our heroine than I am about the author’s word choices.

Those readers who would dismiss this tale as being about “just animals” aren’t going to get that far with the story anyway, and those readers who truly want to inhabit Scraggly’s POV aren’t likely to set it aside because of semantics.

There are similarities to tales by Gabrielle Roy, Doris Lessing, and May Sarton who have also told stories from the perspective of furred and winged friends, which are also illustrated (here the illustrations are by Nomoko), and Sun-Mi Hwang’s new novel will undoubtedly find many new fans.

Have you read a story about the four-legged or the winged lately? Would you be a member of Scraggly’s or Sprout’s fan clubs?