The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim is the tale of a mother and daughter and the distance that’s always lived between them. When Margot surprises her mother with an unexpected visit, she instead discovers her mother’s dead body. What happened to Mina Lee? And who was she before she became the woman Margot knew only from a distance?
This story is a little reminiscent of Celeste Ng and Jean Kwok, as all three authors explore mother-daughter relationships, often in the difficult landscape of immigrants parenting their American born children. The juxtaposition of the kind of life each generation leads and how that impacts their perception of each other allows the reader to walk a mile in each character’s shoes, learning more about the unexpected hardships immigrants and their families face. A common theme amongst these authors is the difficulty of having one foot in each culture and constantly being torn in different directions.
This dual narrative, multi-timeline novel explores this and more. The past and present are neatly woven together, as both mother and daughter lament their distant relationship but also lack the knowledge and language to fix it. As Margot discovers more about her mother’s past and motivations, her mother’s behavior begins to make more sense.
This novel was filled with interesting characters. The true main character may, in fact, be food. Korean food plays its own large role in this novel, serving to connect disconnected characters from each other and the place they miss. The descriptions of food are sure to make your stomach growl, so read with a snack handy or search out a Korean restaurant in your area to get takeout from to enjoy while reading the book!
I loved how the author used food to set the environment and draw reclusive characters together. Although Mina failed to connect with Margot on many levels, she gave her the gift of Korean food to comfort her.
Margot playing detective to solve her mother’s death forces her to reassess her own life and goals, and pushes her outside of her comfort zone. In learning more about her mother’s life, she learns more about herself and her family.
This novel has a leisurely pace despite the time jumps. Although events unfold slowly, when they do occur it is sudden and fierce. This parallels nicely with the characters, who find their gumption right when they need it the most.
I’m thankful to NetGalley for providing an ARC such that I could review this novel.
The Last Story of Mina Lee release September 8, 2020.