SOS Book Club Pick: Can’t I Go Instead

Follow the lives of a mistress and servant during the Japanese occupation of Korea in “Can’t I Go Instead.” Lee Geum-yi explores the complex relationship between the women, examining the extent to which loyalty and deception can be used to survive.

About the South of Seoul Book Club

If you are familiar with the series, skip ahead to learn more about “Can’t I Go Instead”

Looking for book recommendations? Welcome to the South of Seoul book club. We recommend a book every month. Such recommended books explore topics like 1) South Korean history or culture, 2) the complexity of cross-cultural life, 4) the exploration of life within the diaspora experience, and 5) lenses on Korean culture around the world.

Commitment to Accessibility

South of Seoul volunteers take book accessibility into consideration when recommending titles. We consider:

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  • Purchasable in English In Korea: Many translated titles can’t actually be purchased in English in Korea,
  • Audio Version Available: Many people find audiobooks easier to consume.
  • Online Versions.: International residents can’t afford to travel with many books. Also, many books may not be available in digital form from within Korea.

Commitment to Diverse Lived Experiences

South of Seoul volunteers seek to put lived experiences at the forefront of their recommendation choices. When considering authors we look for such things as:

  • Korean authors writing about their lived experiences in Korea.
  • International residents writing about their lived experiences in South Korea.
  • Ethnic Koreans writing about their lived experience in other countries.

Reading about Korean culture from a variety of perspectives may provide readers with a greater understanding of the country and culture.

Commitment to Supporting Mental Health

South of Seoul also includes book recommendations that support the lives and mental health of our community. This means that books may tackle the issues related to living between cultures. This may include topics such as culture shock, language, relationships, and more.

can't i go instead

Book Recommendation By Melissa Edwards-Whittington

February’s South of Seoul Book Club recommendation, “Can’t I Go Instead” is brought to you by Melissa Edwards-Whittington of the KimchiRednecks. Edwards-Whittington has lived in Korea since 2017. She and her husband, Chuck, formed the KimchiRednecks YouTube channel to give people living outside of Korea or those coming to Korea, a glimpse of life here in Korea. Together with their three shih tzus, they post weekly videos about places to eat, things to cook, places to visit, or life in general living in Korea.

About The Author of “Can’t I Go Instead”

The author of “Can’t I Go Instead,” Lee Geum-yi, is a South Korean author. She is well-known for her literary works, often exploring themes related to Korean culture, history, identity, and women’s experiences. Lee Geum-yi’s ability to capture the nuances of human experiences has earned her recognition among readers and scholars interested in Korean literature and the immigrant experience. Therefore, her work resonates with audiences, shedding light on important aspects of Korean history.

Q&A: Lee Geum-yi, Author of Can’t I Go Instead

My Experience Reading “Can’t I Go Instead”

After reading The Picture Bride by Lee Geum-yi, I was interested in reading more from the author. I enjoyed her writing style in the previous book. “Can’t I Go Instead” is a complex story of love, deception, duty, and honor. In 1920s Korea, Chaeryeong, a nobleman’s daughter, is given a gift from her father for her 8th birthday. He chooses to gift her a peasant girl. Sunam’s sister is chosen but she begs to go in her sister’s place. Seven-year-old Sunam becomes Chaeryeong’s maid and, ultimately, her replacement, inspiration, and savior. 

Years later, while Chaeryeong and Sunam are in Japan, Chaeryeong’s lover is arrested for being involved with the Korean independence movement. Therefore, her father steps in to find a way to save her from trouble with the Japanese. He agrees to have his daughter join the Woman’s Brigade to encourage other women to join. He promises Sunam if she takes his daughter’s place, she will be freed once her commitment is done. And he forces his daughter to be married and sent to the United States.

The story is heartbreaking and beautifully written with both hardships and moments of happiness intertwined. With their linked fates, Chaeryeong and Sunam are both thrown into worlds that are painful, unfair, and biased, and ultimately, they each have to face those difficulties. The character development and the story in this book were just beautifully done.

More Commentary And Reviews On “Can’t I Go Instead”

The above review contains my thoughts and opinions. However, make sure to read other reviews to have a more rounded perspective toward the book. We all come to each story with our own social/cultural lens. Therefore, others may have perceived this book in a different manner and may help you decide if this is the book for you.

Review: Can’t I Go Instead By Lee Geum-Yi

You can purchase Can’t I Go Instead by Lee Geum-yi in English on Amazon.

Find More Book Club Recommendations

Did you like this recommendation? Be sure to explore our other volunteer-recommended books.

Also, check out the selections from South of Seoul Book Club 2023.