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Book club questions for The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim takes a closer look at this engaging novel. There will be spoilers so for more more context about the story, check out my spoiler-free review first.
I feel this is a great pick by Reese for her book club. Her book club has a lot of sway and power and the novels pretty much always end up on the bestseller’s list. The Last Story of Mina Lee is so unique and original. I’m still thinking about this story. This would also make a great movie or TV series.
It’s a sad one though. You know it will be right off the bat. But wow, Mina really had a tough life and I truly felt for her throughout the novel—even when I didn’t agree with some of her actions. I don’t think I’ve read a story quite like this one before.
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.
Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.
Told through the intimate lens of a mother and daughter who have struggled all their lives to understand each other, The Last Story of Mina Lee is a powerful and exquisitely woven debut novel that explores identity, family, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.
Book Club Questions for The Last Story of Mina Lee
- The book starts off with a brief glimpse into Mina and Margot’s complicated relationship, which we learn more about as the book goes on. What was your opinion on their relationship? Why do you think it was so complicated?
- Margot drives to LA from Seattle with her friend Miguel. She hasn’t heard from her mom in two weeks. When Margot goes to her mom’s apartment, she finds her mother is dead. Let’s talk about our thoughts as we read this scene.
- While the police believe it’s an accident, Margot has her doubts. She takes it upon herself to learn about what happened to her mother. What would you have done if you were Margot?
- We also read the story from Mina’s perspective of coming to the U.S. in the late 1980s from South Korea. Why did Mina decide to leave everything behind and come to the U.S.?
- This story covers the realities of being an immigrant in America—and oftentimes, it’s so difficult. Did you learn anything from this story or could you even relate it to somewhat to your own family’s experience?
- What did you think about Margot’s journey in finding out what happened to Mina? How did it help Margot understand her mother better?
- Why do you think Margot kept saying that she couldn’t stay in LA near her mother (prior to her death)? Do you think she’ll remain in LA going forward?
- Let’s talk about Mina’s relationship with Chang-hee Kim. Why did Mina never tell Margot the truth about her father?
- The main thread of the story is what happened to Mina. Did you suspect that someone, like Mr. Park, had killed Mina? What was your reaction when it turned out to be an accident by Mrs. Baek?
- As Margot uncovered the tragic secrets of her mom and also Mrs. Baek—what did it show her about the lack of options and choices available for these immigrant women?
- How did Margot’s opinion of her mother change from the beginning of the story to the end?
- Overall, were you satisfied with the ending of the story? Why or why not? Do you think she’ll see her grandmother one day?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for The Last Story of Mina Lee! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…
Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children—four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.
Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man.
But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family—knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future.