The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Verdict: a slow character study kind of read, so if you’re into that style you’ll probably enjoy this
For a light mystery but mostly a self-reflective journey of discovery, for mouthwatering descriptions of tasty Korean dishes, for some very poignant moments of insight into one woman’s extremely difficult life
Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother. Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.
The story itself is a slower pace as you learn about Mina and Margot in their past and present. I loved the subtle intertwining of the two. The reflections of Mina’s past experiences in Margot’s present as she investigates her mother’s death linked them together in a beautiful way. The highlight here is the writing itself, as it’s very plain and unassuming yet conveys so much emotion.
You probably shouldn’t come into this book for plot, as it’s there, but it’s not overly compelling. It does move, but slowly. There’s one brief moment of climax, but it’s a small one. This story focuses far more on the people and their relationships. Whether it’s Margot and her mother Mina, Mina and her lover, an undocumented mother and her son, or even one of the main women and her very own self.
Margot is quite a wild character. She’s (understandably) emotional and unpredictable and inconsistent in her moods. She tends to swing to extremes, with huge surges of indignation and fear and depression and gratitude. This got a little jarring at times, where she would rage against her childhood and how much she hated her mother in one breath, and then meet up with a new character and be overcome with love and appreciation for everything that her mother did for her.
If you want a sad and reflective read, this is the one. You’ll probably come out of it feeling fairly grateful for what you have, but also possibly (like me) also somewhat depressed about the realities of life.
4 thoughts on “Review: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim”
Great review! This does sound like an interesting read and I’ve been waffling on whether to pick it up or not. Just like Margot’s mood swings, I feel like my attraction to this book sways wildly and at one minute it sounds like such a strong emotional read, but then the next I feel like it would frustrate me too much 😂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks! Yeah I could totally see that. Even though my mood wasn’t perfect for it, I still read it without it ever feeling like a chore which is a blessing 😂 so even if it’s not a perfect time match, I’d say go for it if you’re interested!