The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim. Toronto: Park Row Books, 2020. 978-0778310174. $27.99
Margot has been calling her mother for days with no answer, trying to let her mother know that she is on her way home to Koreatown in Los Angeles for a visit as she helps a friend move from Portland. The last time she spoke with her mother, Mina, was a couple of weeks ago and now she cannot seem to get a hold of her, which is unusual. After a couple of days on the road, they finally arrive at her mother’s apartment. Margot uses her key to open the apartment door when suddenly her nose is assaulted by a strong odor, like overripe and rotting fruit. When she turns on the light, she finds her mother, dead on the floor.
Determined to find answers surrounding her mother’s sudden death, Margot begins to trace her mother’s life as a single mother and undocumented Korean immigrant in the United States. As she talks to various acquaintances and friends of her mother’s, Margot discovers that she really did not know her mother at all. As a teen, she had been filled with anger toward her mother and her absent father. But she also had hated and been embarrassed by her mother’s failure to learn English, their poverty, their shabby home, and her life. Uncovering secrets that her mother kept buried inside, Margot seeks to understand her mother and the struggles that she experienced in life in a way that she never did when her mother was alive.
Kim, the author, tells two stories in her debut novel alternating between Margot’s and Mina’s stories. Margot’s search for answers in 2014 following the death of her mother and Mina’s life in 1987 as she stepped off the plane from South Korea to begin a new life in Southern California. As you read this novel, you will be drawn into the story of intergenerational conflict between family members, one an immigrant and the other an American, seeking to understand each other despite their differing cultural viewpoints. I recommend this book, a story that could be very familiar to most immigrant families. Once I began reading, I was caught up in the stories of their lives, wanting to keep reading until the very end. Full of intrigue and suspense, Kim presents an emotional story of discovery with Margot not only discovering details about her mother’s life, but as she learns more about her mother’s life, she discovers herself, helping her to move forward to discover the life she wants to live. For more information about the author, check out her website at http://www.nancyjooyounkim.com/home or an interview of the author by Zibby Owens on YouTube, https://youtu.be/vTh87Xy1q_g