Portrait of a Thief: A Novel

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Penguin, Apr 5, 2022 - Fiction - 384 pages
7 Reviews
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INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize

Named A Most Anticipated Book of 2022 by *Marie Claire* *Washington Post* *Vulture* *NBC News*  *Buzzfeed* *Veranda* *PopSugar* *Paste* *The Millions* *Bustle* *Crimereads* Goodreads* *Bookbub* *Boston.com* and more!


"The thefts are engaging and surprising, and the narrative brims with international intrigue. Li, however, has delivered more than a straight thriller here, especially in the parts that depict the despair Will and his pals feel at being displaced, overlooked, underestimated and discriminated against. This is as much a novel as a reckoning."
—New York Times Book Review

Ocean's Eleven
meets The Farewell in Portrait of a Thief, a lush, lyrical heist novel inspired by the true story of Chinese art vanishing from Western museums; about diaspora, the colonization of art, and the complexity of the Chinese American identity.


History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now. 

Will Chen plans to steal them back.

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents' American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago. 

His crew is every heist archetype one can imag­ine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they've cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down. 

Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they've dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted at­tempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

Equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, and thrilling, Portrait of a Thief is a cultural heist and an examination of Chinese American identity, as well as a necessary cri­tique of the lingering effects of colonialism.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - ethel55 - LibraryThing

There was a little of everything in this--I got the heist story I wanted and the college age protagonists coming of age as well. The book is told via all five viewpoints. Will and Irene (siblings ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - rmarcin - LibraryThing

This is a novel about several young Chinese Americans who get involved in a plan to steal Chinese art and return the pieces to China for a huge payout. Will, a Harvard art history student, along with ... Read full review

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About the author (2022)

Grace D. Li grew up in Pearland, Texas and is a graduate of Duke University, where she studied biology and creative writing. She lives in Northern California and attends medical school at Stanford University. Portrait of a Thief is her debut novel and is currently in development at Netflix, with Grace serving as an executive producer for the series.

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