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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

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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

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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Free sample

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

Margot

Fall 2014

Margot's final conversation with her mother had seemed so uneventful, so ordinary—another choppy bilingual plod. Half-understandable.

Business was slow again today. Even all the Korean businesses downtown are closing.

What did you eat for dinner?

Everyone is going to Target now, the big stores. It costs the same and it’s cleaner.

Margot imagined her brain like a fishing net with the loosest of weaves as she watched the Korean words swim through. She had tried to tighten the net before, but learning another language, especially her mother’s tongue, frustrated her. Why didn’t her mother learn to speak English?

But that last conversation was two weeks ago. And for the past few days, Margot had only one question on her mind: Why didn’t her mother pick up the phone?

 

Since Margot and Miguel had left Portland, the rain had been relentless and wild. Through the windshield wipers and fogged glass, they only caught glimpses of fast food and gas, motels and billboards, premium outlets and “family fun centers.” Margot gripped the wheel, hands cramping, damp with fear. The rain had started an hour ago, right after they had made a pit stop in north Portland to see the famous thirty-one-foot-tall Paul Bunyan sculpture with his cartoonish smile, red-and-white checkered shirt on his barrel chest, his hands resting on top of an upright ax.

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Why I love it

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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Member ratings (11,913)

  • Kathryn W.

    Burlingame, CA

    A year later I still find myself thinking about this story. Upgraded from “like” to “love.” It’s left an impression on me and paints a beautiful story that does not dip into the “model minority” myth

  • Briana T.

    Doral, FL

    Every sentence was so beautiful and purposeful. I read it super slowly, didn’t feel hooked the whole way, but still gave it a “love” because of the power of the story. It whispers, shouts and relieves

  • Ismerai E.

    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.

  • Marie L.

    Tolleson, AZ

    This goes back and fourth between the mother & daughter’s viewpoints which could quickly get annoying to many but I absolutely loved it. It was a true page turner and full circle moment at the end❤️

  • Randi D.

    Blacklick, 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.

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