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All booksContemporary fictionThe Last Story of Mina Lee
The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Contemporary fiction

The Last Story of Mina Lee

Debut
We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Nancy Jooyoun Kim, on your first book!

by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Quick take

A story to fill the generational gap between mothers and daughters, sprinkled with mystery, self-discovery, and love.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Inspirational

    Inspirational

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MamaDrama

    Mama drama

Why I love it

Etaf Rum
Author, A Woman Is No Man

As a daughter of immigrants, I am drawn to stories that paint a picture of what it means to be American from a perspective that is often untold. The Last Story of Mina Lee does just that, grappling beautifully with themes of identity, class, race, gender, and what it truly means to belong. I finished the novel in one sitting (and may or may not have wept through some of it). It’s one of those stories that grabs you from the first line and stays with you long after you turned the last page.

It starts with a gripping discovery: Margot Lee returns to her childhood apartment in Koreatown, Los Angeles, to find that her mother Mina has mysteriously died. On a quest to learn the truth about her mother’s death, Margot digs into Mina’s past as an orphan of the Korean War and an undocumented immigrant. Gradually, she learns that the woman she called mom contained multitudes.

A vivid examination of immigration and belonging, this moving debut tells two stories in parallel—Margot’s present-day discovery of her dead mother in 2014 and Mina Lee’s arrival to the United States in 1987. An emotional mother-daughter story wrapped up in a poignant mystery, this book is an unforgettable reading experience.

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Synopsis

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.

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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of The Last Story of Mina Lee.

Member thoughts

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All (9221)
Love (3026)
Like (5231)
Dislike (964)
9394 ratings
  • 32% Love
  • 56% Like
  • 10% Dislike
  • Channelview, TX

    I enjoyed reading each character’s experience. I’m glad we got to know more about Mina’s life before her daughter and her experience coming to the U.S. because that’s a story we don’t hear often.

  • New Albany, OH

    As someone with a strained relationship with their mother, this book’s synopsis intrigued me. A truly beautiful story of love, loss, and understanding that I couldn’t put down. I finished in 24 hours.

  • Woodside, NY

    This was so beautifully written and I was deeply moved by the story and its characters. Everyone needs to read it as it’s perfect in understanding and empathizing with another’s arduous experience.

  • Dallas, TX

    Went out of my thriller comfort zone and was pleasantly surprised! I loved reading Mina’s chapters and hearing about her life and reading about how Margot grew to appreciate her mom and Korean culture

  • Washington, MO

    A beautiful and heartbreaking mother/daughter story. Told from both perspectives, the mother’s past is unfolded as her daughter tries to finally understand the mother she never really knew. Must read.

  • Winthrop, MA

    We too often forget our parents are people too. Mina’s story was engrossing and sorrowful. I enjoyed learning her story alongside Margot. The Korean culture woven throughout only enriched the story.

  • Atlanta, GA

    The Last Story of Mina Lee was a heart breaking look into the lives of undocumented immigrants. I've heard many stories about experiences like this but this book makes you feel as though you are there

  • Missoula, MT

    If you like mysteries, mother daughter drama and beauty, you will like this book. I really enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful. The author brought so much detail to these characters, they each shine

  • Temple Terrace, FL

    Very moving story from a point of view Ive not read before. I loved how it highlights the complexity of relationship when one generation of the family is from somewhere else and the kids are American.

  • Kansas city, MO

    I love books that have 2 different timelines, it’s like having a bonus story- seeing how her mom grew up really explains the way Mina raised her daughter & this books proves how strong a bond can be

  • North Andover, MA

    This book had me captivated! I wasn't sure at first, but I became enmeshed with the characters, and the stories they told. The details of why the characters chose to do what they did were intriguing.

  • San Diego, CA

    There is so much going on in this powerful story and it all rings true - life in your 20's, being part of an immigrant family, single parenting, part mystery, the complications of being undocumented..

  • Valley Center , CA

    Such an impeccably written story. I cared about these characters and the story sat with me long after I was finished reading. It was a story of family and strong women with a little mystery thrown in

  • Las Vegas, NV

    Let me start by saying this is Book of the Year 2020. I would like to let everyone know this is a must read book!!!! What a story!!!! Mina was such a powerful woman. Read this book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Puyallup, WA

    The Last Story of Mina Lee is a tender look at loss, renewal, mental illness, loneliness, and tightly held secrets. We get small looks at Mina & Margot's lives, but it isn't quite enough to know them.

  • Peconic, NY

    I enjoyed the back and forth between past and present, and the mystery that surrounded the death of Mina. The unbreakable bond between mother and daughter and immigrant struggles are powerful themes.

  • Scottsdale, AZ

    Solidly written book. The mother-daughter divide can be applied to pretty much any mother-daughter relationship. Strong, believable perspectives on immigration, 1st generation, and women on their own.

  • Lacey, WA

    This was a powerful, emotional read & the story was beautifully written. I have so much more appreciation for my mother and immigrants of this country.I can't wait to read more novels from this author

  • Sanford, ME

    This book is like a painting. With words for brushstrokes the book slowly reveals hidden truths about family, loss, identity and sacrifice and the ugly reality behind the American Dream. Words as art.

  • Bristol, CT

    I loved this story of a Korean immigrant and how she deals with being in a foreign country where she is unfamiliar with the customs and language. Mina and Margot's mother child dynamic seemed strained

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