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.
In Kim’s haunting and heartbreaking debut, troubled threads between a mother and daughter blend together in a delicate and rich weave ... With both sadness and beauty, she describes grief, regret, loss, and the feeling of being left behind. Fans of Amy Tan and Kristin Hannah will love Kim’s brilliant debut.
The novel’s interior moments — in which mother and daughter think tragically past each other — work best ... Had the author kept the narrative this close, The Last Story of Mina Lee would have been a stronger book, its tangled subplots (Korean flashbacks, organized-crime figures) more of a counterbalance to the characters’ yearnings. Unfortunately, Kim succumbs to a common failing of first novels, telling too much ... The Last Story of Mina Lee may not be perfect, but it’s a story that cries out to be told.
[An] uneven debut ... Mina’s immigration story poignantly mingles optimism with the heartbreak of exploitation. The more contemporary portions of the narrative, however, lack both emotional pull and narrative conviction. Margot’s characterization feels flat ... As a personal immigration narrative Kim’s novel largely succeeds, but as a mystery novel or a mother-daughter drama it fails to connect.