A REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Riveting and unconventional, The Last Story of Mina Lee traces the far-reaching consequences of secrets in the lives of a Korean immigrant mother and her daughter
Margot Lee's mother is ignoring her calls. Margot can’t understand why, until she makes a surprise trip home to Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. Determined to discover the truth, Margot unravels her single mother’s past as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother, Mina.
Thirty years earlier, Mina Lee steps off a plane to take a chance on a new life in America. Stacking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing she expects is to fall in love. But that moment leads to repercussions for Mina that echo through the decades, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.
Told through the intimate lens of a mother and daughter who have struggled all their lives to understand each other, The Last Story of Mina Lee is a powerful and exquisitely woven debut novel that explores identity, family, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.
“Painful, joyous... A story that cries out to be told.” —Los Angeles Times
“Kim is a brilliant new voice in American fiction.” —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Suspenseful and deeply felt.” —Chloe Benjamin, author of The Immortalists
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Nancy Jooyoun Kim’s elegant and deeply felt debut explores the diverse Korean immigrant experience in Los Angeles—and the complicated, elemental connection between a mother and daughter. When Margot returns to be L.A. after an extended absence, she discovers her mother Mina has been murdered, and she’s drawn into a perilous investigation that puts Mina’s and Margot’s difficult lives in America under a microscope. Kim is an astute, generous storyteller, and she weaves the two women’s divergent, sometimes contradictory narratives into an exceptionally gratifying whole. The Last Story of Mina Lee is a gripping read about a mother’s long-held secrets and a daughter’s quest to finally grasp her own tangled history.
In Kim's uneven debut, an unexpected death highlights both the rifts and the bonds in a mother-daughter relationship. Margot Lee, 26, figures she'll stop in for an overdue visit with her mother, Mina, while she's in Los Angeles helping a coworker relocate from Seattle. At the house, she finds her mother dead. The death was ruled accidental, but the circumstances gradually appear more suspicious as Margot uncovers Mina's mementos and learns about her mother's secrets, both long-buried and more recent. Margot's investigations alternate with (and in some cases, awkwardly parallel) the story of Mina's 1987 arrival in Los Angeles's Koreatown, having fled Korea in the wake of a personal tragedy. Mina's immigration story poignantly mingles optimism with the heartbreak of exploitation. The more contemporary portions of the narrative, however, lack both emotional pull and narrative conviction. Margot's characterization feels flat, and her supposed artistic aspirations lack any sort of passion or urgency. Most problematic, however, is the mystery plot, which hinges not only on a series of fairly implausible coincidences but also on some unconvincing police work. As a personal immigration narrative Kim's novel largely succeeds, but as a mystery novel or a mother-daughter drama it fails to connect.
The story with no end
I wished she would have said more at the end about her grandmother. I felt like the story didn’t end there.
Really enjoyed the Korean immigrant experience and their life in Los Angeles. The complicated bond between mother and daughter was compelling. I enjoyed this book, just certain moments when the daughter was being over the top to me.
I really enjoyed working through the characters constant missed connections. Great read.