Grace D. Li
Portrait of a Thief
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 that has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a shadowy Chinese corporation 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 conman: 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.
Publisher: Tiny Reparations Books (Penguin Random House)
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
“Grace Li’s thrilling debut, Portrait of a Thief, is a beautiful examination of identity as children of the diaspora. Through Will, Irene, Daniel, Lily, and Alex, we see their struggles to connect with the land of their parents conflicting with what it means to be Asian American. This fast-paced heist leaves you clutching the pages and rooting for the thieves.”—Roselle Lim, author of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune
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Grace D. Li grew up in Houston, Texas, and is a graduate of Duke University, where she studied biology and creative writing. She is currently a medical student at Stanford University.