The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim is an emotional and moving tale that illustrates the realities and experiences of being an immigrant in America. This journey is told by the alternating voices of a Korean mother, during her first year in Los Angeles and by her daughter in present day. Margot Lee cannot figure out why her mother, Mina Lee, is not returning her calls. At least until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA and finds that her mother has died; possibly suspiciously. This event has Margot digging through her single mother’s past as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she really knew about her mother. Entwined with Margot’s search is the telling of Mina’s story of her first year in the US as she travels through the promises and perils of the American myth of reinventing oneself. Barely supporting herself, stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, Mina unexpectedly finds love with another Korean worker. Events occurring at the store accidently puts into motion events that have consequences for years to come and leading up to the truth of what actually happened to cause her death. After years of struggling to understand each other, Margot is finally getting the opportunity to truly learn who her mother really is and possibly better understand her. Ms. Kim wrote an emotional and powerful tale in her debut novel that should not be missed. She provided a tale exploring identity, family, secrets, and what it truly means to belong. I definitely recommend The Last Story of Mina Lee. I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.
9 people found this review helpful
Mothers and daughters are always a storyline that intrigues. Add in the reluctance to talk about your past, immigration, assimilation and the natural conflict that enters the relationship as children seek their own pathways, and you have a story rife with secrets, mysteries and even regrets. Such is the case with Margot and her Korean-born mother Mina. It’s been a year since they spent time together, phone calls were getting more infrequent, and Margot decides that after several attempts, she needed to go to her mother’s house. Finding Mina dead in her apartment leads to a whole series of guilts and conflicted feelings for Margot, many tinged with the frustrations and anger of so much lost and unknown. Contrasting Margot’s story in the present with her mother’s voice sharing her own struggles and fears about her new country, the new language, customs and her newborn daughter, we find correlations and contrasts in the two stories, and questions that arise for Margot concerning her mother’s death. Secrets are uncovered, and Margot is, albeit too late, learning the ‘reasons’ behind some of her mother’s behaviors and concerns: concerns and behaviors that frustrated her and led to many fraught moments and their ultimate semi-estrangement. While not a perfectly balanced story as I found Mina’s moments more striking, the balance that Kim struck between the ‘Americanized’ version of Margot with the more ‘traditional’ Mina provided moments that sang, even as the mystery element wasn’t as well incorporated. The prose is lovely, the issues are the same as any other mother-daughter relationship – with the added stressors of finding a way to hold on to what is important to your sense of self while still managing to function and assimilate into a place that is both very different and even seeks to ‘instill a sense of shame’ into the desire to hold on to your past. From food and the comfort and familiarity it brings to the moments that are purely heartfelt and often heartbreaking, this was an interesting read that shows similarities, differences and common experiences for us all. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
7 people found this review helpful