“The Last Story of Mina Lee” by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Thanks to Headline and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book tells the story of Mina, a South Korean immigrant to the United States and her daughter Margot. The story is told from two different viewpoints, Mina in the past and Margot in the present day. The story chronicles Mina’s life as an immigrant and Margot’s journey to find out the cause of her mother’s unexpected death.

Mina’s story is definitely the stronger of the two, but I enjoyed Margot’s too. The narrative explores the dark side of the American dream and the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants and the Korean diaspora in the United States which makes for some tough reading at some points. The novel also delves into the enduring effects of past trauma, grief and loss and was often desperately sad.

Running through the narrative is also Margot’s attempt to solve the mystery of her mother’s death which added a kind of whodunnit element. I’m not sure how well this was achieved as it felt a little incongruous and unnecessary and I don’t think it added anything to the story.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, I promise. The descriptions of food and the centrality of Korean cuisine to the lives of the characters was written in an incredibly mouth-watering and evocative way. You WILL be hungry after reading this book. I also really liked the friendship between Mina and Mrs Baek and the bittersweet love story which ran through Mina’s story.

There were a lot of different issues explored in this book, but it didn’t feel shoehorned which stands as a testament to the quality of the writing. It could probably have done without the mystery element, but it didn’t detract anything from my overall enjoyment of the book.

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