The Last Story of Mina Lee” by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Review by Yvonne Selander, collection development librarian

I usually agree with Reese Witherspoon on her book group selections. This time, we disagree.

Mina Lee is found dead in her apartment in Koreatown, Los Angeles, by her daughter Margot. The death is ruled an accident, but Margot can’t accept that her mother tripped and fell and all her years of hard work came to such a senseless death. As Margot cleans her mother’s apartment she discovers that she might not have known her mother at all.

Mina is an undocumented immigrant from Korea who suffered awful tragedies there. Coming to America was a new start, but the tragedies just keep coming. This is a woman who finds her only joys in her daughter, who is embarrassed by her mom, their apartment and their poverty. Yes, Mina had brief periods of true joy in her life, but they are few and far between. My heart hurt for this woman and, as each secret is unearthed by Margot, you learn more about Mina’s heartache. 

I listened to the story and wasn’t a fan of the reader (another reason I might have disliked the book) because she wasn’t consistent. A character with a Texas twang would have very noticeable long vowels, then they would disappear and then they would come back with a vengeance almost. 

It might just be my headspace right now. I need my sad stories to have a huge dose of hope and I didn’t get that here. So this may be a case of right book, wrong time.