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.