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The Last Story of Mina Lee

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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.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2020

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Nancy Jooyoun Kim

3 books388 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,739 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,309 reviews2,191 followers
January 4, 2021

3.5 stars

This novel offers a moving view of the immigrant experience and reflects on a mother-daughter relationship filled with secrets, regret, and love. There are two time lines . Margot in 2014 seeks to find answers about what happened to her mother, her mother’s past and in doing so she finds out about herself. Her mother, Mina is the focus of the second alternating narrative in 1987, and we discover her losses and the sad life before she arrived in the US from Seoul, after having fled North Korea. Mina’s story was heartbreaking. I found it to be a sad story in many ways for Margot, as well, as she struggled to come to terms with herself as a daughter of an immigrant. She wants so much to be American and consequently, distances herself from her mother and her heritage. At times I found the story to be repetitive. The mystery part didn’t appeal to me since I’m not a fan of mysteries and it felt a little contrived. However, this story has so much to offer. The ending of this moving story was perfect, and that’s why I upped to 4 stars.

After I finished the book, I read an interview with the author here :
https://www.writeordietribe.com/autho.... “ I myself don’t speak Korean well and my mother, who is also an immigrant and single mother like Mina, does not speak much English either. And although this book is not autobiographical, I wanted to write a story that was true to the sometimes painful complexities, forms of conflict, and unacknowledged labor within working-class immigrant families. “
So while not totally autobiographical, Kim knows about the life of a child of a Korean immigrant and shares that with the reader in many ways.

I received a copy of this from Park Row through both Netgalley and Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,325 followers
September 3, 2020
3 stars for this quiet and insightful story.

Margot’s mom, Mina, was a quiet single mother who worked hard to provide for her daughter. Margot doesn’t know much about her mother’s life before she immigrated from Korea before Margot was born. When Margot shows up at her mothers apartment unexpectedly, her mother doesn’t answer the door or the phone. From there, Margot begins on the journey to learn about her mothers past as a Korean War orphan, her undocumented immigration to Koreatown, LA and her long hidden family identity.

This book offers a detailed look into the Korean culture, specifically the extreme challenges immigrants face when coming to the USA. I felt for Margot when she found out the true pieces of her mothers’ harrowing past and all she endured to survive and stay in the country.

While I did enjoy learning about another culture, I found the pace was extremely slow especially in the second half. My interest wasn’t held as tight after the halfway point and the story dragged in several spots. The writing lacked the emotional pull I had expected.

This was an interesting and eye-opening look into the life of a young Korean undocumented immigrant. I just wish the writing and storyline would have held my attention more strongly and kept me fully engaged.

Thank you to Edelweiss for the review copy!
August 27, 2020
3.5 stars

The Last Story of Mina Lee is a lighter read that explores the complicated relationship between a single immigrant mother, Mina and her American born daughter Margot. The story is told in present chapters from Margot who, after returning home, finds her mother dead. Margot starts to realize there is much she doesn't know about her mother, her past living in Korea, living in Los Angeles Koreatown and the secrets she kept from Margot. As she starts to uncovers past and present secrets she becomes suspicious Mina's death wasn't an accident and a mystery starts to develop. The story is also told in chapters from Mina in the past and we see a side to her that Margot doesn't. I enjoyed seeing Mina's life and secrets through her POV and found myself wanting to get to her chapters over Margot's.

There is some distance between Mina and Margot and Nancy Jooyoun Kim does a good job showing us the strain of their relationship and how little Margot knows and understands her mother.

I enjoyed the mention of Korean food throughout the story, and the food scenes became an interesting part of the story for me. I could feel the connection the food had to the characters and the love and sense of belonging it gave them.

Even though the story didn't have the emotional pull I wanted, I enjoyed the mystery to the story and liked how it all came together.

Talking about my shelves or talking to myself

Own voice: Nancy Jooyoun Kim shares the experience of being the daughter of a single immigrant mother with her character Margot

I received a copy from the publisher for a blog tour.

To find out more about the story please check out my blog post with a Q & A with Nancy Jooyoun Kim that was provided for the blog tour.

Profile Image for Danielle.
835 reviews452 followers
March 27, 2021
I really wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. 😬 Overall, I just didn’t get anything from it. It felt a bit flat, very slow and... I don’t know.... boring? 🙄 I listened to the audiobook and it kept putting me to sleep. 😴 it’s not the worst thing I’ve read- but I don’t know who I’d recommend it to. 🤷🏼‍♀️
September 19, 2020

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DNF @ p. 282

I'm actually really upset about this book review because I was expecting to like it and spent all of what I read of it being totally unexcited. THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE kind of does for the Korean-American population in Los Angeles what JOY LUCK CLUB did for the Chinese-American population in San Francisco, in that it explores shared cultural history through the vehicle of a child's disconnect with her mother and then "reconnecting" them through their cultural history.

Unfortunately, for the heroine of this book, Margot, the chance to make amends is gone. The book opens with Margot finding out that her mother, Mina, has died of mysterious circumstances. Her mother fled Korea during the war, and has always been secretive (and very sad). As Margot looks into her mother's death, she finds out more than she ever could have dreamed about Mina's past loves and struggles, and how she fared as an immigrant in a country where she didn't initially speak the language.

I actually enjoyed the passages about Mina a lot. She's a sympathetic character with a kind of understated sense of humor, and her tragedies were upsetting and real. I liked the fusion of Korean-American and Latin-American cultures in Los Angeles (something the city is famous for) and its portrayal on the pages. Where the story flops is Margot, who is so passive and empty. She doesn't really have much characterization of her own: she's just the vehicle through which we discover Mina. And maybe that wouldn't be too bad if her POVs were few and far between, but they're not.

Some people might enjoy this book more than I did. To be clear, I took no issue with the rep, since that's not really anything I know too much about, and I enjoyed learning about Korean history and culture. It's the flat writing and the fact that one POV is significantly less interesting than the other that really made this a tough sell for me. I was going to try to push through the end but life's too short to read mediocre books and I found myself just pushing and pushing reading this off, so here we are.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

2 stars
Profile Image for Nursebookie.
2,192 reviews342 followers
September 5, 2020
This novel made me call my mom and give her a virtual hug. As a daughter of an immigrant, and someone who grew up in Koreatown, Los Angeles in the late ‘80’s, I resonated with this book - the urban location, the people, the food brought back all kinds of memories for me. The neighborhood is as good as stepping into Seoul for its sights, smell and sounds. Through the points of view by mother (Mina) and daughter (Margot), and two distinct timelines and juxtaposition, we discover what tore them apart and what will bind them together.

I loved the writing, the pacing, the murder mystery component, and the great representation of the immigrant Korean-American experience. Kim did not hold back and told about the hardships, difficulties and struggles. This is truly an amazing and unforgaettavle debut by Nancy Jooyoun Kim.

Don’t miss this one!
Profile Image for jenny✨.
578 reviews842 followers
September 2, 2020
09/01/2020: HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY TO THIS GEM! It's been a full month since I flipped the last page, and I'm still all up in my feels about this story.

She understood that both life and death could be random, unnecessary—but she needed more from her mother’s story. And now that her mother was dead, Margot was no longer afraid of any truth.

There’s a special kind of ache in my heart that's reserved for knowing how a story ends even as it's unfolding.

Like this: In 1987, we chart forty-one-year-old Mina Lee’s journey to the US. She begins stocking shelves and carrying produce at a Koreatown supermarket, navigating Los Angeles's smoggy streets, seeking snippets of beauty in its heat, poverty, and intersecting cultures. She forges friendships with other undocumented immigrants, and finds herself falling for a kind man who ultimately leaves her behind.

All the while, we already know how her story ends. 2014: Mina, dead in her apartment, alone; it is days before her daughter Margot even realizes. Weeks since they last spoke. A year since they were in each other’s company. And many, many years since they were able to bridge that divide particular to immigrant families: that of lost language, assimilation, shame, and inherited traumas. Incommunicable love.


The Last Story of Mina Lee is a book that will make your heart ache. It's written in gorgeous prose and captures the intense, complex grief of two women—a mother and daughter—who struggle to carve out their own stories in a space permeated by whiteness and dictated by men.

Their decisions would always be scrutinized by the levels at which they were able to sacrifice themselves, their bodies, their pleasures and desires. A woman who imagined her own way out would always be ostracized for her own strength. Until one day they found each other by some kind of magic or miracle or grace—here now.

I really, really liked this one, y'all. This book wasn't perfect (I didn't care for the mystery/thriller aspects surrounding Mina's death, the resolution was a touch harried, and sometimes the metaphors felt overwrought) but I am SO incredibly moved by Mina's story.

She is a war orphan, a woman mourning the husband and child who died in Seoul, a middle-aged undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles. She is a single mother with a broken heart. She is all these things and more.

Yet Margot, who doesn't speak Korean and resents all her mother represents—poverty, alienness, a lack of agency—will never know these things: her mother is dead now, and there is no one left to tell her these stories.

Neither Margot nor her mother fully grasp the extent of the other's lives. It's only the reader, accessing both POVs, who realizes how little each woman understood the other—but how much they loved each other, too. This disconnect was DEVASTATING for me.

Lastly, I want to mention that this book captures some really beautiful moments of solidarity between people of colour. A Sikh cabbie tells Mina to keep her fare on her very first day in LA. Mina learns Spanish to joke and speak with her Latinx coworkers. She and her lover help an undocumented Mexican family find work, and escape an abusive employer. In a book filled with moments that will absolutely wreck you, these were some of the most moving.


UPDATE 8/5/2020: It's been almost a week since I finished this book, and I still can't get it out of my head. Certain moments keep replaying in my mind on loop, and one passage in particular:

In this country, it was easier to harm someone else than to stay alive. It was easier to take a life than to have one. Was she finally an American?

I can't stop thinking about these words.

Thank you NetGalley and Park Row Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review! *All quotes were taken from an uncorrected advance copy.
Profile Image for Terrie  Robinson.
447 reviews719 followers
September 22, 2021
"The Last Story of Mina Lee" by Nancy Jooyoun Kim is the story about the complex relationship between a Korean immigrant single mother and her American-born daughter.

Margot Lee, 26 YO, living in Seattle, is worried about her mother, Mina, who's not answering or returning her phone calls. Margo drives to the L.A. Koreatown apartment, where she grew up and where her mother still lives and finds her mother dead.

Was it an accident or an intentional death? Mina needs to know what happened but realizes she knows very little about her mother. She begins her own investigation into her mother's past to learn about Mina's life and to discover the circumstances of her death.

This story is told in two timelines:
The present: Margot discovering Mina's body and her hidden past.
The past: Mina tellng of her life in Korea and in the L.A. Koreatown.

The characters of both Margot and Mina are fully fleshed out and intimately exposed by the author. I saw both women as brave, headstrong and insistent about carving their own chosen path. Mina resists the transition to the American lifestyle or learning English, instead she chooses to hold onto her Korean cultural roots. Margot, not knowledgeable about Korean culture, is pulled towards the mainstream of her first generation American-born culture.

I listened to the audiobook and it was a challenging experience! It didn't hamper my enjoyment of the story, but I would suggest the choice of a print or e-copy rather than listening to the monotone voice of the narrator, Greta Jung. She simply reads the book without the expected and interesting voice inflections that we are so entertained by in our audiobook selections.

I enjoyed this book because it speaks about the conflicting topics experienced between immigrant parents and their American-born children. This is a topic that interests me, and I want to continue learning and reading more about. I applaud this author for writing such a beautiful character-driven story and debut novel!

4.5 for the story, 2.5 for the audiobook averaging to 3.5 stars rounded up! I highly recommend this book!
Profile Image for Berit Talks Books.
2,024 reviews15.7k followers
September 2, 2020
An authentic and raw look at the life of an immigrant. A compelling debut packed with culture and secrets. Margot is first generation Korean American, She grew up in LA’s Koreatown. Margot was always a little embarrassed of and never fully understood her mother, so she went to college in Seattle and never looked back. Now she is home, her mother is gone, and Margot is learning that there was much more to her mother than she ever realized. Told from the alternating perspectives of Margot and her mother Mina. Not only do we watch Margo try to figure out what happened to her mom we are also privy to Mina’s life when she first arrives in the US from Korea. This really allows the reader to glimpse the full picture of this complicated mother daughter relationship. As well as a real look at the life of an immigrant. Greta Jung narrates the audiobook masterfully. She gave the perfect voice to both Margot and Mina and what I appreciated is I always knew which character was speaking. I also really appreciated both her Spanish and Korean pronunciation.

Nancy Jooyoun Kim grew up in Los Angeles and that as well as her Korean Heritage really shown through on these pages. I love seeing the diversity, especially the representation of the Asian and Latin cultures. This is the California I grew up in, I grew up in LA County in a neighborhood that was more white than this one but diverse none the same. So often this area is portrayed as this glitz and glamour place of privilege where the majority of Californians don’t live. The LA Mina lived in was broken and dirty, yet beautiful and diverse. I have to admit I enjoyed her parts of this book more than Margot’s. Mina was such a wonderful character! She was so strong, so resilient, so stoic, and yet she had a quiet sense of humor. I was humbled by how brave she was to uproot her life and move to a different country where she had no knowledge of language or culture. Her tenacity was admirable and she really made a good life for herself. What was unfortunate was that Margot never recognized it and part of that was on Mina there was so much she could have shared but didn’t. The mystery in the story was probably the weakest part of the book a lot of it depended upon coincidence. I think I would’ve liked more about Mina, more about her life in Korea and more about her life after her first year in America. A lovely story looking forward to what’s next from Mancy Jooyoun Kim.

This book in emojis 🍱 🍵 👗 🧸 🖼 🛒

*** Big thank you to Park Row & Harper Audio for my gifted copy of this book. All opinions are my own. ***
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,398 reviews805 followers
September 19, 2020
“The Last Story of Mina Lee” is another daughter/mother immigrant story in which the daughter woefully misunderstood her mother. The story is character-driven with Margo, Mina’s daughter, and Mina tell their stories through their own chapters. Margo begins the story in real time. She makes an unexpected trip to visit her mother and finds Mina dead in her Koreatown apartment in Los Angeles. Mina’s chapters are the backstory of Mina and how she came to Koreatown, her life in Koreatown, and her life prior to coming to America.

Author Nancy Jooyoun Kim stated in an interview that she wanted to write a “different” sort of immigrant novel, one in which she explores the complicated interdependence between an immigrant mother and her American-born daughter, “ways in which they love, need, and sometimes resent each other,” Through their own chapters, Mina and Margo explain their feelings, reactions, motives to their relationship. All mother/daughter relations are fraught with drama and angst. Add to that cultural differences, language barriers, and different expectations, you get a very complicated dynamic.

I enjoyed Mina’s chapters. I found her experiences coming from the ravaged Korean conflict to be amazing. Poor Mina lost her parents when fleeing North Korea to get to South Korea. She grew up in an unloving orphanage yet found a life as an adult in South Korea. Tragedy struck Mina once again, motivating her to try her life in the USA. As a non-English speaker, we feel and learn what struggles Mina endured.

Meanwhile, Margo, who grew up oblivious to Mina’s past, came to detest everything about Mina’s life; poverty, submissiveness, fear. But after finding her mother dead, Margo wants to determine how her mother died, and she eventually becomes curious about Mina’s history.

That is the crux of the storyline. Margo slowly learns of her mother’s fraught past. The reader learns it more intimately through Mina’s eyes. For me, the reason to read this story is to “feel” the scary life of a single immigrant woman. I shall look at elderly immigrant woman differently after reading this.

I listened to the audio production narrated by Greta Jung. I am not a fan of Jung’s performance. I almost quit at the beginning because I didn’t like her dramatic interpretations. Mina’s story, however, kept me compelled.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,514 reviews29.5k followers
September 16, 2020
3.5 stars.

"Sometimes, agreeing to the same lie is what makes a family family, Margot."

How well do we truly know those we love?

Margot has never quite “gotten” her mother, Mina. Growing up she was always a little embarrassed of how hard her mother had to work to keep them afloat, she was embarrassed by their rundown apartment, and the fact she never really made an effort to learn much English.

Still, when her mother doesn’t answer her home or work phones for several days, Margot worries, and when she and a friend get to her apartment, they find Mina on the floor, dead, from an apparently accidental stumble.

Margot is devastated and wants to understand what happened to her mother, especially when she learns that Mina had been seeming sad lately. As she goes through her mother’s papers and possessions, she realizes there was so much about her mother she didn’t know, so much that made her who she was and shaped her relationship with Margot.

The book is narrated by Margot in the present as well as Mina, tracing the time period from when she arrived in the U.S. until just before her death.

I liked The Last Story of Mina Lee , particularly Margot’s discoveries about her mother. Margot herself isn’t the most sympathetic character, but you certainly understand her actions. Mina’s story was a sad one, but probably one which mirrored many immigrants’. Nancy Jooyoun Kim is definitely a talented storyteller and this is an impressive debut.

The “mystery” part of the plot didn’t really work for me. I found a lot of the connections to be coincidental and a little too unbelievable. Still, on the whole, it was a well-written and compelling book.

I was honored to be part of the blog tour for this book. NetGalley and Park Row Books provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The Last Story of Mina Lee publishes 9/1!

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Ioanna ms✨.
193 reviews122 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
September 4, 2020
DNF 19%
I'm so annoyed that I didn't love this. I love Korean culture, I love mysteries and I love family dramas. But this progressively got more and more dull. The writing was full of clichés, the character of Margot was hollow, and though I did like Mina, it was not enough for me to continue. It's just...off. Damn it!
45 reviews
September 28, 2020
This book....it could have been so great. But it fell VERY short. Like many other people have said, it was more of the author telling than showing, of characters who had potential but fell flat, and it DRAGGED on. There were scenes that didn't need to exist that were painfully descriptive, and then scenes that needed to answer questions or show the story and were wrapped up in 2 sentences. And the ending....the ending was awful and weak and petty.
To be honest I was bored after the first 100 pages and ended up skim-reading it. The lack of depth allowed me to do it without missing a thing. Not only that, but the author beat the reader over the head with her agenda, her intention for writing this particular story. While I 100% empathize and support what she was saying about immigrants, she could have easily done so with style and description and scenes, rather than just flat out stating it.
I wanted this book to be good. I did. And I gave it 2 stars because it was JUST entertaining enough that I wanted to finish it. But honestly, I wouldn't recommend it.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews626 followers
December 2, 2021
Started out good- then dwindled to bland-land.
A little interesting ….
Readable - but almost invites skimming-
Nothing remarkable or deeply memorable.

2.5 rating — rating down because I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it.
NOT AWFUL ….but very average.
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews655 followers
December 23, 2020
Taking place in Koreatown in LA and alternating between the 1980s and 2014, Margot, a Korean immigrant learns of her mother, Mina’s mysterious death. Searching for her own identity, Margot revisits their past on a road of self discovery and to find answers. She learns about her mother’s life as an orphan during the Korean War and her struggles as an undocumented immigrant. Their mother-daughter relationship was fractured, though not for lack of love and the desire to protect. Misunderstandings due to the language barrier and stubbornness on both sides to refuse to learn another language contributed to their disconnect, and Margot’s deep dive into the past to solve the mystery of her mother’s death gave her a greater understanding.

This often heartbreaking story of unresolved discourse, guilt and shame in a loving and well meaning mother daughter relationship was an easy read. Dual timelines and a mystery combine to make an enjoyable debut novel and this one is a recent Reese Witherspoon book club pick. Read more reviews at https://booknationbyjen.com.
Profile Image for Lisa (Remarkablylisa).
2,290 reviews1,831 followers
September 25, 2020
This book is a gem. It takes you on an emotional journey between a mother and daughter that struggled with their relationship. They didn't understand each other. They were angry with each other. They were opposites all the time. But when her mother doesn't pick up any calls anymore, her daughter goes on a wild search to find her and piece together what could have happened. In her journey she realizes her mother had lived an entirely different life that she has never told anyone or hid from her because it was too much to share. Unexpectedly, I ended up bawling at this one particular scene where they were fighting over religion and how important it was to her mother because of her past circumstances. It was heartbreaking, emotional, and fantastic read to any immigrant or immigrant child. I loved it! Go pick up a copy!

Thank you Harper Collins Canada for a copy for review.
Profile Image for Britany.
992 reviews434 followers
December 31, 2020
Second audiobook for the second leg of the drive.

I was hoping this would be so much better than it was. It started out strong- Dual timelines between present day Margot trying to figure out what happened to her mother, Mina. The second timeline is Mina's life going back to 1984 and making her way in the US as an immigrant from Korea. How she adapted, the jobs she had and the friends she made.

I really enjoyed seeing both timeframes and getting to know these characters-- then it just all got a little sloppy and unfinished. I appreciated that the ending was realistic, but maybe that took away from the all the buildup a bit? I can't quite put my finger on why this didn't work for me, but something just got crossed in the wires on this one.
Profile Image for Lorilin.
757 reviews238 followers
April 18, 2020
Margot hasn't heard from her mother, Mina, in over two weeks, and she's worried. Since she's planned on helping her friend move from Portland to Los Angeles anyway, she decides to make a surprise visit to her mom while she's in town. But when she arrives at their old apartment, she's shocked to find her mother lying on the kitchen floor, dead, her body lifeless for at least a week or more. At first it seems like an open and shut case: her mother fell, hit her head, and died from the resulting hematoma. But as Margot begins sifting through the few documents her mother possesses, she realizes there is so much more to Mina's story than she ever knew...and things are a whole lot more complicated than Margot originally thought.

This is a very slow-moving whodunnit-type story. The book is told in alternating chapters, first from Margot's present-day perspective as she's trying to uncover the facts of her mother's life, then from her mother's perspective 30 years prior during the summer she first moved to LA. While I enjoyed learning about Mina's life and watching all the twists unfold, the book moved too slowly and was too tragic, in my opinion. There was almost nothing positive about Mina's life. It truly was hardship after hardship after hardship, with no insight, hope, or "lessons learned" moments thrown in. Life isn't always rosy, I get it, but it's tough to read 400 pages of straight tragedy. I got through the story, but I was more than happy to be done with it.

Thank you to Amazon Vine and Park Row books for the ARC. See more of my reviews at www.bugbugbooks.com!
Profile Image for Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows).
1,571 reviews331 followers
August 18, 2020
So many thoughts on this one. So many. I'll try not to ramble too much and keep this short and succinct. Mina (mother) and Margot (daughter) - two time lines, two different stories. Usually with two different storylines, I prefer one over the other. I think I was more interested in Mina's because of the hardships she endured, the sacrifices she made and the secrets that she kept. Margot did resonate for me though - being the daughter of an immigrant and trying to handle two different cultures.

While there is a sense of mystery in trying to figure out if Mina's death was actually accidental, this book is mainly a look at the mother/daughter relationship. Margot finally gets a look at the person her mother was while trying to reconcile her guilt at not visiting or staying in contact more. I absolutely LOVE all the Korean references - omg, the food! I smiled at a lot of things that reminded me of my Korean family and certain parts really had my heart.

I think the book starts strong but then I went through pockets of lulls as I was reading. The pacing seems a bit weird and I wish I had more of Mina's story before she came to the U.S. But these are fairly small things compared to how much this book touched my heart.
"But her mother's harshness was designed to protect Margot from what her mother considered to be a universe without shelter, without much kindness for kindness' sake."

What it boils down to is realizing that our parents are human and they had a different kind of life before they had us. We tend to take them for granted and as a child of an immigrant, the embarrassment of trying to fit into a different culture while coming home to another can be daunting and frustrating. But we need to realize just how much harder it was (and probably still is) for them. I certainly have a stronger and better relationship with my mother now that I'm older, she's not as harsh (she likes to say she's mellowed out over the years) and I have a better understanding and have embraced my Korean side.

Everyone, consider your parents and realize that they're so much more than the person who raised you. If your parents are still around, go give them a hug or give them a call. In this hustle & bustle world, don't get so busy that you're going to regret your inactions when it is too late.

And.... I did a double take a couple times from this cover as it reminds me so much of my cousin, if I was walking behind her. 😉 Weird note I know, but it's true!
Profile Image for Lacey.
185 reviews3 followers
September 30, 2020
I thought about ditching this book early on. I should have. It did not improve.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
990 reviews130 followers
January 4, 2021
This was just ok. Very slow in many places. I think this may be that the book tried to go in too many directions at once. It was a murder mystery, an immigration statement, a feminist statement, etc.
Profile Image for Alyson Stone.
Author 4 books61 followers
August 9, 2020
Book: The Last Story of Mina Lee
Author: Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Rating: 2 Out of 5 Stars

I would like to thank the publisher, Park Row, for providing me with an ARC.

My whole issue with this book was the lack of development. This could have been a good book for me if it had been developed a little bit more. I was fully expecting to like it and was actually very interested in the Korean aspects of the book. However, the lack of character and plot development just didn’t do it for me. It felt like everything was just happening for the sake of just happening. We got a lot of the who and what, but not a lot of the why. With this being a thriller, there needs to be a lot of the why happening.

Margot’s storyline was on the weaker side. I really didn’t care what was happening with her. Her mother had just died and, yet, I didn’t feel any emotions coming from Margot. She just seemed to be going through the motions of trying to figure out what happened. We didn’t feel any kind of grief or confusion from her-even though we were supposed to. We know that Margot is confused because the author tells us and we know that there are holes in her relationship with her mother, again because we are told this. However, it just doesn’t come across the page that way. It felt flat.

Now, I thought that Mina’s point of view was really interesting. It is her point of view that saved this book from getting a one star rating from me. I really liked getting to see the struggles of new immigrants to America. We get to learn about the cultural differences and see what is really is like to move to a new country. She has a difficult life, which comes out so well on the page. Something that really confused me about Margot’s point of view. Anyway, getting to see this part was great and I thought it really added to the overall story.

So, why is there this great imbalance? To me, it almost feels like the author was more invested in writing about Mina’s point of view than Margot’s. There is a stark contrast between the way the two point of views are written. I think that Margot needed some more fleshing out and some more emotion. Something, I don’t know what. It just really felt like something was missing and off. I just think that there has to be more than what we got.

Anyway, this book comes out on September 1, 2020.
Profile Image for Iryna *Book and Sword*.
447 reviews641 followers
July 2, 2020
3.75/5 stars

I don't remember ever being this much on a fence about a book. I loved so many things about it, but somehow it also fell just a tad short for me.

Let's start with the good things! I l LOVED her writing, lyrical, smart and nuanced, but still to the point. I absolutely adored all of her views on immigration and how it feels to be one, "American dream" and growing up having your world split in two. I related immensely, I am an immigrant myself - so I highlighted A LOT in this book. Straight to the heart.

This would have been a perfect read, but the plot was very questionable, and dialog felt very forced, which was the biggest bummer as it disabled me from really connecting to the characters.

​I still recommend it though, this book has TOO MUCH wisdom to pass it on. It opens the eyes of those who aren't immigrants, and it completely obliterates the hearts of those who have wore the shoes of immigration themselves. I loved getting destroyed by the feelings this book gave me. Own Voices immigration stories are my ABSOLUTE favorites.

Big thanks to NEtGalley and HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada) for a digital advanced reader copy of this book. Opinions are my own.

The last story of Mina Lee comes out on September 1, 2020.
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
897 reviews304 followers
November 2, 2020
At the beginning of the book I thought that I had found a gem.
Just a simple gesture of kindness almost made me cry.
That’s how good it started. It created an immense expectation for me.
The first 65% really kept me engaged.
Not even the (plenty) repetition of conversations bothered me.
I did enjoy the writing and the structure.
I liked reading about the struggles of a woman who escaped North Korea and immigrated to America without speaking English.
I thought that the difficult relationship between a mother and daughter was well showcased but I did wish for more depth or development.
I loved reading Mina’s perspectives.
As for the ungrateful daughter, Margot, I thought that she was too dry and her POV was uninteresting.
What ruined it for me: I thought that some events were too unrealistic and the ending was a disappointment.
Profile Image for Mary.
1,572 reviews507 followers
November 6, 2020
I have no idea what it is like to be an immigrant or an immigrant's child, but I really feel like that experience was brought to life for me in The Last Story of Mina Lee which is Nancy Jooyoun Kim's debut novel. And oh the FOOD! This book made a hungry girl even hungrier with all the descriptions of food the characters were eating, so maybe eat before reading this! I have a BOTM copy but decided to do the audio and this is one of the only times I will say I do NOT recommend that route. The narrator is Greta Jung, and I found her narration to be very stilted and distracting. I don't know if she is just doing it because of the type of book it is, but Margot is said to be a very fluid speaker of English and Jung's narration did not convey that at all.

I really enjoyed the mystery surrounding Mina's death and that Margot goes sleuthing (with her friend Miguel's help) to figure out what really happened. What she found completely surprised me, and I think the ending will be shocking for a lot of people. The biggest theme though, is that of the mother/daughter relationship. I really appreciated the way the author shows the reader the extent of Mina and Margot's bond, and how little Margot really knew and appreciated about her mother. The book switches between Margot in present day and Mina's past which is something I loved. I would have liked even more of Mina's backstory, but I appreciated what I got, and it was a great lead-in to Margot's current day.

I thought The Last Story of Mina Lee was sad but also empowering, and I liked that it speaks to what it's like to be an immigrant in America. I can't imagine what it's like, but I feel like I got a glimpse of it in this novel. Overall I really liked this debut, and I will be looking forward to Nancy Jooyoun Kim's next book.
Profile Image for Jypsy .
1,524 reviews57 followers
September 8, 2020
I'm fortunate to be part of The Last Story Of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim book tour courtesy of BookClubbish and Park Row. Thank you for a gifted copy! I voluntarily reviewed this book. All opinions expressed are my own.

REVIEW ☆☆☆☆☆

I am not Korean. I am not an immigrant. Did I, regardless of this, identify with The Last Story Of Mina Lee? Yes, I absolutely did! This story is so universally connected to everyone. On almost every page, I've written notes and underlined snippets and entire passages that speak to my heart and soul.

Mina and Margot are familiar to me. I don't speak often to my mother, and that is my choice. She is harsh, and I am done with that. Margot realizes, after Mina's death, that she knew little about her mother and regrets so much of their history. Isn't this true more often than not when you lose someone? You learn about so many things that escaped you. This story is heavy with regret and sorrow and wishing to change the past. A universal feeling.

Nancy Jooyoun Kim paints a vivid picture of LA Koreatown and a Korean immigrant's way of living, of surviving. I have not experienced any of these things, and this intimate portrayal helps me envision Mina and Margot. I love the flow of the language, almost lyrical, and beautiful. I connected emotionally to this story-its themes about relationships, friendships, heritage, appreciation for the now-and I know I will think about it for a long time. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is just fantastic in every way!
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,424 reviews2,558 followers
August 7, 2020
Sometimes, agreeing to the same lie is what makes a family, family….

The Last Story of Mina Lee is told from the perspective of Margot and Mina. Margot lives in Seattle away from her mother Mina who lives in Koreatown, La. For the last two weeks Margot has been trying to get in touch with her mother via phone, but her calls return unanswered, a little worried, Margot decides to drive to her Mother’s house to check in on her. On arriving at her childhood home Margot finds her mother face-down…dead, of what she considered suspiciously. Margot spends the time trying to piece together her mother’s life, in putting together her memorial she finds out she does not *really* knows her mother. Margot spends the next weeks trying to piece together her mother’s life by talking to her few friends and acquaintance. Margot hopes to learn more about her mother and maybe find out who killed her…

The book goes between 2014/ present day Margot’s discovery of her dead mother and 1987 when Mina arrives in the US from Korea. Mina is 41 years old and is starting over in the US after losing everything back in Korea. Starting over is hard, there is so much to learn but Mina is determined to make a way in America, which may be what lead to her death…

This book started our strong! With the author starting the book with the death of the character, we are taken back and forth with both characters to piece together what happened. I initially was drawn to this book because of the heavily suggested mother-daughter theme and I also love books that feature Korean characters, I just felt like the book wavered and just ended up being flat overall.

What worked:
I liked that the author has the two POVs we got a layered look into Mina and Margot’s relationship. I felt for Margot and her grief, she is grieving the mother she knows and the mother she did not know- that for me was profound.

I loved how the author wrote about immigration and what it is like for persons who do not have papers. It is such a struggle to start over and I loved that the author was realistic in how the theme was presented.

I think having the end at the beginning did a lot to keep me going to the end.

What didn’t work
The writing started off strong but, in the end,, it really faltered and the book dragged. While I am generally fine with having loose ends or unanswered questions, I felt a lot of things were not explored. We didn’t get a solid picture of Mina BEFORE America, I wanted to hear more about that. I also felt like the author dragged the ending of the book, 60% in and I wanted it to be wrapped up.

Overall, this book really fell flat.

Profile Image for Anna.
1,133 reviews95 followers
October 3, 2020
I feel I can't give a fair review as I listened to the audiobook and found the reader's voice to be very flat gaving little life to the story, making it rather boring.
I did appreciate the struggles of Korean and other immigrants who came to this country with dreams of a better life only to face prejudice and other obstacles that made their life difficult with few opportunities.
Mina Lee's story of her past in Seoul to her journey to Korea Town in Los Angeles was heartbreaking, and life in America was little more than hard work and scraping by. The one highlight in her life was her daughter Margot. Margot though resented that her mother didn't embrace the American way, only recognizing after her death how hard life was for her mother. As Margot explores how her mother died, she finally comes to understand all her mother sacrificed for her.
Part mystery, part immigration story, part family drama, maybe I would have liked it better if I read the book rather than listening to the audio.
Profile Image for Mom_Loves_Reading.
369 reviews84 followers
August 19, 2020
Told in alternating POV's (the past & present, Mina & Margot), this is a story that will make a home in your heart for years to come. This book would make an excellent book club choice, too! There are just so many points of discussion in this gorgeous, debut novel.

'The Last Story of Mina Lee' is a gripping, poignant, & often heartbreaking story about a complex mother-daughter relationship: an immigrant parent's sacrifices & the mystery surrounding her life & her death, & the daughter who longs to reconnect with & understand her, & who now must do so by unraveling the enigma of her mother's past. I loved learning more about Korean culture as well in this well-written, #ownvoice novel.
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