Book Review | The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim


Title: The Last Story of Mina Lee

Author: Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Publisher: Headline

Release Date: 1st September 2020

Source: NetGalley

Buy: Amazon UK
Suspenseful and deeply felt...raises questions about the reality of the American dream and illuminates stories that often go untold, in life as well as fiction' Chloe Benjamin, bestselling author of The Immortalists

Reminiscent of Celeste Ng's page-turning meditations on identity, this searing mother-daughter story explores the diverse and unsettling realities of being an immigrant in America. 

Margot Lee's mother is ignoring her calls. Margot cannot understand why, until she makes a surprise trip home to Koreatown, LA. What she finds there makes her realise how little she knows 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 will have shattering consequences for Mina, and everything she left behind in Seoul.

Through the intimate lens of a mother and daughter who have struggled all their lives to understand each other, Margot and Mina's story unravels the unspoken secrets that can drive two people apart - or perhaps bind them closer together.

'Carefully illuminates the two sides of the silence between a Korean immigrant mother and her Korean American daughter, a silence only too familiar to many of us - and emerges with a stunningly powerful and original novel' Alexander Chee, bestselling author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

You think you know your parents, you grow up knowing everything they do, their loves, likes and dislikes, how they live their lives....but what if that was only the tip of the iceberg, what if they’d lived  a whole other life that you had no idea about?

Margot Lee has been trying to get in touch with her mother, as she has failed to answer her calls, she decides a surprise visit is in order and whilst on a trip to LA from her home in Seattle she stops to visit her mother Mina. She is devastated to find her mother’s body, fearing that there was foul play involved she starts looking in to her mother’s life and discovers a whole side to Mina that she didn’t know existed and finds out just how she touched the lives of the people around her.

Now I’ve probably made that sound like a murder mystery, its not, the story flits between two time lines we have Mina, Margot’s mother arriving in LA from South Korea in the 80’s and the story of how she came to be in the States and how she starts her new life, we follow her as she makes friends, finds work in a Korean supermarket and how she finds love.  We also have the story of Margot and the aftermath of finding Mina’s body and her quest to find out more about Mina’s life.

The story is very well done, sometimes going backwards and forwards in time can spoil a story for me, especially if you don’t particularly care for one timeline but here it worked perfectly.  It was a little slow to start with but once it got going I found the story sucked me in, so many lives ended up being intertwined, I needed to know how it would be resolved.  The Last Story of Mina Lee really was a superb read.

Thanks to Net Galley for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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16 comments

  1. I am glad that the timeline works out in this one. I sometimes find that flashbacks can be confusing, but in this type of novel they are useful. Sounds like one that I will enjoy as well. :)

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  2. I agree, if using switching timelines, the author needs to do a good job of it or one timeline can seem boring compared to the other. Sounds like this book got it right.

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  3. I absolutely love Chloe Benjamin and her book The Immortalists, so if she loves this book, I will take her word for it! Great review :) x

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  4. Korean mothers and secrets. That was also an issue in Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha, a book I reviewed recently.

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    1. I’ll check that one out, I’m fascinated by Asian culture.

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  5. I'm glad you enjoyed this one so much. Switching timelines can be very tricky, but I'm glad to read it worked for you in this book.

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  6. I could read this. And yes back and forth can be so tricky

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  7. Whenever I see your great choices from Netgalley, I wonder if I shouldn't just re-open my account.
    This sounds good! It's the new Reese Whiterspoon as well if I'm not mistaken?

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    1. It is the new pick on Reese, I can imagine how exciting it must be to picked and get all that positive exposure.

      NetGalley is great but as you know it is also a dangerous place to venture!

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  8. Hahaha it actually did sound like a murder mystery at first but it sounds like the author knew what they were doing here. Great review! :)

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