Bookends chats with Nancy Jooyoun Kim, author of THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE, this month’s Reese’s Book Club pick!
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, an extraordinary collection of essays which explores, through an evocative and personal lens, the stories of undocumented immigrants in Latinx communities from Miami to Flint. I’m now reading Kelli Jo Ford’s Crooked Hallelujah, an intimately powerful novel about the complex mother-daughter relationships within four generations of Cherokee women. I’ve heard so many good things about this debut; I’m loving it so far.
What book do you most recommend to others, and why?
This is a tough question! I recommend books depending on my mood and what the reader is looking for, but for a contemporary novel, I probably recommend Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward the most. Sweeping and exquisitely-written, Pachinko has something in it for everyone—history, heartache, love. Sing Unburied Sing is such a gorgeously lyrical and powerful book, a classic road trip novel through rural Mississippi about family, history, and hauntings. Both of these books say so much about the world we live in now.
Describe your ideal writing day
My ideal writing day begins in the morning and includes about three hours of working on a novel, whether I’m writing a new chapter or revising, a lunch break, and then about one to two more hours of the novel in the afternoon. Then an additional one to two hours working on shorter pieces such as essays. Ideally, I would write for about five hours per day. I can’t really do much else after that. It’s intense work. I also need time to read!
If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, which is under so much threat because of climate change and global warming. When I was a child, I was particularly interested in the wildlife of Australia and I dreamed of being an oceanographer and conservationist like Jacques Cousteau. Obviously, that never happened, but I’d still love to go to Australia.
What drew you to writing about mothers and daughters?
I’ve always been fascinated by the complex interdependence between mothers and daughters—the ways they need, love, and sometimes resent each other. Mothers and daughters often function as mirrors for one another, and yet because of generational differences, they can have very disparate lived experiences as well. All of this makes mother-daughter relationships particularly fascinating and fraught.
If you could have a real-life conversation with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I would love to have a real-life conversation with Mina, the title character of my novel. I would ask: What would you have done differently in your life? (I’d ask this even though I kind of know the answer.)
Has anything about publishing your debut novel come as a surprise to you?
Writing can be an extraordinarily lonely practice. And I never realized how collaborative publishing a novel can be, from editing to marketing, and how incredible it is to have a team that supports your work and vision. After all my years of working on books, over 15, it is absolutely wonderful to have a team of such gifted publishing professionals on my side.