Can't I Go Instead
by Lee Geum-yi (trans. An Seon Jae)
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Pub Date 9 Nov 2023 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2023
From the author of The Picture Bride, two women’s lives and identities are intertwined — through World War II and the Korean War — revealing the harsh realities of class division in the early part of the 20th century.
Can’t I Go Instead follows the lives of the daughter of a Korean nobleman and her maidservant in the early 20th century. When the daughter’s suitor is arrested as a Korean Independence activist, and she is implicated during the investigation, she is quickly forced into marriage to one of her father’s Japanese employees and shipped off to the United States. At the same time, her maidservant is sent in her mistress’s place to be a comfort woman to the Japanese Imperial army.
Years of hardship, survival, and even happiness follow. In the aftermath of WWII, the women make their way home, where they must reckon with the tangled lives they’ve led, in an attempt to reclaim their identities, and find their places in an independent Korea.
‘Can't I Go Instead’s complex and profoundly human characters will captivate, devastate, and move you, all at once.’ – Juhea Kim, author of Beasts of a Little Land and Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist
‘A true feast for historical fiction readers who love unpredictable stories and complex characters!’ – Lorena Hughes, award-winning author of The Spanish Daughter
‘Compelling and inspiring, this story speaks of resilience and determination to make the best out of the situation one has been dealt.’ – Booklist
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 15 members
A book I will never forget. I found this book so heartbreaking, heartwarming and also educational to a side of WWII you don’t often hear about. So excited to buy a physical copy so I can reread.
Thank you to Scribe for the review copy via NetGalley!
Having read ‘The Picture Bride’ also by Lee Geum-Yi, I knew I was going to have to read this asap. Lee’s novels give voice to history rarely novelised and tells it in such a vivid way, with the novel closely following the lives of two deeply intertwined women, exploring class and identity. As far as historical fiction goes, Can’t I go instead is a must read as the narrative is juggled between the stark reality of living in colonial Korea and the immigrant experience in 1940s America. The injustices faced by the characters, especially Sunam leaves much food for thought.
Whilst not a life changing novel, I love this author and would definitely recommend this novel and encourage others to check out her other novel that has been translated into English .
Can't I Go Instead is a family saga, told in different POVs and with lives intertwined in a part of Korean history that caused so much grief, heartache and difficulties for many Koreans.
I learned about how life might have for Koreans living under colonial Japan. The novel painted a rich picture of how the different living conditions, hardships, opportunities and challenges were for people belonging in different social classes.
I enjoyed this novel a lot and would recommend it to lovers of historical fiction and family sagas!
Thank you to Netgalley and ScribeUK for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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