Portrait of a Thief By Grace D. Li

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Portrait of a Thief: A Novel By Grace D. Li

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Book/Novel Author: Grace D. Li

Book/Novel Title: Portrait of a Thief

 

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INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERNamed 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 ReviewOcean’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.
PORTRAIT OF A THIEF is thrilling from the first act. Will, Lily, Irene, Alex, and Daniel are intriguing characters, and I can’t wait to read about their lives beyond university. THIEF is the story of unconditional friendship, family, discipline, determination, and justice. Thoroughly enjoyable read—
During the middle of a robbery at the museum where he works, a business card is thrust into Will Chen’s hand. When he calls the number, he finds himself putting together a crew and traveling to Berlin for a once in a lifetime opportunity. The crew is offered 50 million dollars to steal five Chinese artifacts from museums around the world.I had a hard time getting into this book. The characters felt extremely stereotypical. Just about every chapter had one character or another talking about their displacement and unease as a second generation immigrant. This in itself wasn’t off-putting, but it became extremely repetitious. With some editing, this could have been a more exciting adventure, but instead I found myself growing bored. Overall, 2 out of 5 stars.
Will is a senior at Harvard. As the eldest son of Chinese parents, he has always done his best to live up to their expectations of him. When he receives an illegal offer to steal historical Chinese sculptures from an American museum in a bid to repatriate them to China, Will sees it as an opportunity to make history and gain connection with his culture. However, he can’t succeed alone, and to pull off the heist, he recruits a hacker, a thief, a con artist, and a getaway driver to secure the priceless artifacts, and each of his recruits is committed, not just for the money, but also because they desire genuine cultural connection as well. This is their heist, to take back a piece of their culture, to find connection far away from the home their parents left, and if they succeed and don’t go to prison in the endeavor, they’ll come out fifty million dollars richer at the end of it.I was interested in the premise and enthused for the opportunity to read a story that examined the cross-section of history, art, and war in relation to stolen artifacts, and how those stolen artifacts relate to the culture’s diaspora. Essentially, I wanted something ambitious with plenty of depth, hopefully paired with interesting characters and a solid plot, and while the ambition and characters are there, a fair bit of the rest didn’t quite make it. Not only did the writing style fall into repetition of ideas and descriptions midway through, but that repetition also robbed the proceedings of the depth I craved from this topic.I feel like it is important that historical works stolen from their original home be returned if and when they are recognized and asked for. At the same time, there is nuance and complexity not only in the art world, but also in the idea that part of the diaspora would take great personal risk to reclaim a piece of their culture and homeland. Unfortunately, while the premise and initial conveyance of ideas and themes were beautiful, once these were conveyed, much of the rest suffered from superficial repetition. Portrait of a Thief is the story of a Chinese American seeking to restore pieces of his heritage to their rightful place at great personal risk, while recruiting others to do the same. While this story did not meet my own expectations, I recommend it for readers interested in the Chinese diaspora, issues surrounding stolen artifacts and their intersection with war, and stories about the art world and museums that examine their ethical and moral responsibilities.
I really enjoyed the premise and the beginning but then it became more of a slog and a romance book instead of the witty heist book I was looking forward to. The characters were forgettable, as I totally forgot who was who and that was easy because they had no unique descriptions to make their appearances pop in the narrative. I would ask myself, who the heck is this character again? I enjoyed the descriptions of travel to the foreign countries and the art but on a whole it wasn’t my cup of tea and stopped reading.I was really was into the premise- super excited- but sadly could not finish the book. Great effort. Although this didn’t work out I would try other titles from the author.

PORTRAIT OF A THIEF is a love story; a tale of longing and vigilantism; and the desperate, universal need to find our place in the world. Above all, this is a story about right and wrong; about who gets to shape and reshape history; about home and heritage. Debut author Li absolutely blew me out of the water with this modern-day, elevated heist novel that is sure to appeal to a wide audience.

 

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