The Last Story of Mina Lee, by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, 4 Stars

Just when we thought that the pandemic couldn’t get any worse and we started to settle into our new normal…remote learning came back. With a vengeance. And I know that my kid’s teachers are doing an amazing job, but it makes me want to pull my hair out each and every day.

I think back to last year, when my youngest was finally in full-day kindergarten (we won the lottery, and yes, that is exactly what it felt like). I could barely contain my excitement as I walked him up to school that first day. Then I enjoyed a solo jog, got ready in peace and met friends out for wine and cheese. Ahhh. Distant memory.

This year we logged each child in, we lost internet connection only about 20 times in the first hour and settled into half-days worth of zoom calls. I was complaining to a friend about how 3.5 daily hours of zoom is too much for a six-year-old. And she said, “it’s too much for an adult.” True dat!

How many days until Christmas break? #strongertogether #wereallinthistogether

I think reading might be our only escape from the current realities. Especially as warm weather turns cold.

From the Publisher:

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.

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. 

My Review:

One of the toughest things for immigrants in my mind is that they have degrees and experience working in high level jobs in their country, and often come here and find themselves in lower class positions. I understand that language is a barrier, as is specific accreditation’s, but it is still mind blowing to me.

Take, for example, Mina Lee, the fictional star of The Last Story of Mina Lee. She is fictional, but feels so real I think I’ve seen her in a small swap meet shop sometime in my past. She was a clothing designer in Korea. She worked her way up to owning her own stall at a swap meet in America. Such a disconnect.

Of course, I’m not giving anything away (it’s in the description of the book) to say that Mina meets her tragic end alone in her small, dingy apartment. And she isn’t found until a week later by her estranged, first generation American daughter, Margot. And so much of her life and death is a mystery.

Kim switches between Margot’s present day perspective and Mina’s perspective as a new immigrant in America. And as Margot makes tiny discoveries, we, the readers, are being fed a tiny bit of the story piece by piece. It’s a narrative strategy I really enjoy as I feel we are discovering answers to the mystery together.

Side note- you will be hungry when you read this. The descriptions of Korean food were torturous at times. They sounded so damn good!

This one is a must read and released this week. So you are able to head down to your local independant bookstore and pick up your copy. Thanks to Netgalley and Park Row for an advanced e-galley in exchange for my honest review. Here’s a link to find a store selling the book in your area:


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