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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 colonialis 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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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 colonialis 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.

30 review for Portrait of a Thief

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    This is a more of a “literary” take on a heist story–it’s less about the heist, and more about the characters’ Asian-American identities and how they grapple with diaspora. As such, you have to suspend your disbelief with the way the characters try to pull off these heists, cuz no way in hell would this happen LOL. My favorite part about this book was the sapphic relationship. Did not expect that, but was fully on board with it! Let’s go mean girls! (I’m aware the author’s sister reads these rev This is a more of a “literary” take on a heist story–it’s less about the heist, and more about the characters’ Asian-American identities and how they grapple with diaspora. As such, you have to suspend your disbelief with the way the characters try to pull off these heists, cuz no way in hell would this happen LOL. My favorite part about this book was the sapphic relationship. Did not expect that, but was fully on board with it! Let’s go mean girls! (I’m aware the author’s sister reads these reviews, so if you are reading this, just know I disagree with people who disliked the character based off of you and liked your character the most out of the cast! Now please ignore the rest of my review bc I’m tired of authors harboring resentment against people for neutral reviews that are not meant for them to read lol) I think this is the kind of book I would have rated 5 stars if I were a freshman in college taking an Asian-American Studies 101 class. Now that I’m a jaded old woman, I have mixed thoughts. I love the idea of reclaiming stolen art and infusing reflections of Asian-Americand diaspora throughout the story. However, I wish there was more variety in perspectives. Not only did the 5 POVs we got have the same writing/tone, but it also had the same perspective for each character, blurring the cast together into one soapbox rather than a diverse range of interpretations and attitudes. Every time I read a character, I was hit over the head with the same internal conflict every time, rather than getting to see a gradual development or internal change. The prose is lyrical but repetitive to the point where it became very distracting. The same phrases get used multiple times – things like the air or sky are described as being “full of possibility” (my ebook copy counted at least 20 times), and scenes meant to imply romantic tension will mention “the hollow of [character]’s throat” and “the curve of [character]’s cheek/lips” (at least 10 times). Many paragraphs started off with variations of “It began like this”/ “It had gone like this” / “It would go like this” before listing several descriptions in a row to set up a scene (at least 20 times). Halfway through, I could outline every chapter following the same structure: start off with describing the weather, then in-between every line of dialogue or action dedicate 1-2 paragraphs to contemplating the diaspora or the weight of parents’ expectations, then end the chapter with some vague reference of possibility in the air. Sometimes, to start off a paragraph, state “This is how it starts” before listing scenery descriptions or activities that the characters are doing in fragmented sentences. For romantic scenes, have the characters contemplate what it would be like to trace their finger from the curve of a character’s lips to the hollow of their throat. I think I can overlook the same phrases being used over and over, but the constant recycled reflection of the diaspora in-between every minor gesture made the story much slower than necessary, without adding anything new to the topic and becoming more navel-gazing and predictable.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chloe Gong

    This book stared directly into my soul on everything to do with being diaspora and reclaiming what's lost, Grace is a master at making me cry from my heart being overspilled with emotions. This book stared directly into my soul on everything to do with being diaspora and reclaiming what's lost, Grace is a master at making me cry from my heart being overspilled with emotions.

  3. 4 out of 5

    jessica

    completely unrealistic, but still very much enjoyable and entertaining. for a debut, theres a lot to enjoy about this - the analysis of chinese-americans and their relationship with both countries is enlightening, their identities are complex, the art history and heists are engaging, and the diverse cast is very likable. but also, for a debut, theres a lot that could have been improved - the writing is a bit repetitive, the connections between the characters arent quite convincing, and the pacing completely unrealistic, but still very much enjoyable and entertaining. for a debut, theres a lot to enjoy about this - the analysis of chinese-americans and their relationship with both countries is enlightening, their identities are complex, the art history and heists are engaging, and the diverse cast is very likable. but also, for a debut, theres a lot that could have been improved - the writing is a bit repetitive, the connections between the characters arent quite convincing, and the pacing is pretty inconsistent. but honestly, i really do love a “rag-tag team pulling of a heist” kind of story, so this book was my cup of tea. ↠ 4 stars

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elle

    Hmmm, I’m not sure exactly where I’ve landed with this one. The cover is to die for and the synopsis quickly sunk its claws into me, which is why it’s one of the first few 2022 books I’ve started to dig into. And yet, I just don’t think Portrait of a Thief ended up reaching its full potential. It’s a case of trying to do so much that you end up failing at covering the basics. The story hit the ground running—one of our five protagonists, Will Chen, is working at the Sackler Museum when a crew cla Hmmm, I’m not sure exactly where I’ve landed with this one. The cover is to die for and the synopsis quickly sunk its claws into me, which is why it’s one of the first few 2022 books I’ve started to dig into. And yet, I just don’t think Portrait of a Thief ended up reaching its full potential. It’s a case of trying to do so much that you end up failing at covering the basics. The story hit the ground running—one of our five protagonists, Will Chen, is working at the Sackler Museum when a crew clad in all black breaks in and robs them of their Chinese art. Through this chance encounter Will gets drawn into a power play bigger than he could ever imagine, and decides to bring his friends along for the ride. In haphazard attempt to imitate the kind of teams seen in the movies, Will recruits his sister Irene ‘the conman’, her roommate Lily Wu ‘the getaway driver’, his old friend Daniel Liang ‘the thief’ and his former flame Alex Huang ‘the hacker’. They decide to take an impossible job for an impossible goal: to return to China what the West has pillaged in the name of imperialism. And this is where it started to go wrong for me, because none of these allegedly smart 20-somethings have a goddamn idea what they’re doing. They coordinate via text message and WhatsApp. The big planning session, you know where they figure out how they’re going to commit international crimes, takes place on a—wait for it—Google Doc. The largest issue with their scheming is the amount of inconsistencies. Sometimes there’s encrypted calls, they all have flawless fake IDs, but then they also just carry stolen art in their luggage at commercial airports. It’s so insane it’s almost incredible. And I understand that’s probably intentional to a point, but my problem is that nobody would hire these random college kids to do anything like this. It’s a heist, so there’s always going to be some level of suspension of disbelief in order to buy into what’s happening. But this isn’t a popcorn thriller or a action-y blockbuster movie-as-a-book either. It’s a critique of Western colonialism and imperialism dressed up as a fun ensemble heist. And while I would love to read some ridiculous Ocean’s Eleven-style romp as well as a novel that challenges the Eurocentric global power structure, I don’t quite think they fit together here. Because don’t get me wrong, the best part of Portrait of a Thief was the reflections of each of the characters on their own experiences as members of the Chinese American diaspora. They’re such a complex, nuanced meditation that I can only assume Grace D. Li is pulling from her own feelings on the subject in some capacity here. But its delivery works against those very points the author is trying to make. Some of the musings on art, history and the West’s imperial legacy, while astute and true, felt very shoehorned into conversations where they didn’t belong. There’s entire lengths of dialogue that doesn’t lend itself into a natural back and forth, and yet these 21 year-olds are conversing like they’re grad students defending their dissertations. Great points, less successful execution. The characters I think with the most to offer end up being the three outside of the main two siblings, Will and Irene. I would have loved a story of just Alex, Daniel and Lily without the toxic influences of the Chen’s. Will and Irene are entitled, arrogant and spoiled in different but complimentary ways and seem to have the weakest motivations to get involved in the first place, yet are pushing forward the most. That said, even though I did not like either of them, per say, I do appreciate the additional perspectives on being first generation children of immigrants in the US. Despite my criticisms, I didn’t dislike this book. There’s too much good material present to set it aside, but I am a bit disappointed after hyping it up in my head as something it didn’t end up being. Maybe this would work better as a show or movie, which is something we can all weigh in on down the road as it’s been optioned by Netflix already. But if Portrait of a Thief does end up making it through that pipeline, I hope for a better balance between the art theft and character development. And that they ditch that fucking Google Doc. *Thanks to Dutton Books, Tiny Reparations and Netgalley for an advance review copy! **For more book talk & reviews, follow me on Instagram at @elle_mentbooks!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ali Hazelwood

    loved it loved it loved it--the most amazing ensemble cast E.V.E.R.

  6. 5 out of 5

    emma

    every single thing i heard about this book was "it wasn't what i thought it would be." and still i'm like...huh. that wasn't what i thought it would be! i am, like any self-respecting citizen, addicted to heist plot lines. they're the best. i once thought i had feelings for someone because we watched heist movies every time we hung out, and then the heist movies were removed from the equation and there were no feelings whatsoever. in other words, i feel genuine romantic love for heists. relatedly, i every single thing i heard about this book was "it wasn't what i thought it would be." and still i'm like...huh. that wasn't what i thought it would be! i am, like any self-respecting citizen, addicted to heist plot lines. they're the best. i once thought i had feelings for someone because we watched heist movies every time we hung out, and then the heist movies were removed from the equation and there were no feelings whatsoever. in other words, i feel genuine romantic love for heists. relatedly, i think most people dislike this book (or felt disappointed by it) because it's not really a heist story, and because the heist(s) there are are very rudimentary and not so fun. and by most people, i mean me. so this bait and switch (lol) momentarily upset me, betrayed me, destroyed my trust and love in the universe and those around me, but once i recovered somewhat... the themes that take up the page count that the heists otherwise would have (if i designed the entire world) were enough for me! the explorations of diaspora and colonization, of cultural and personal identity, were fascinating and well done, imo. where we have a problem (because this is me, and of course there is a problem) lies elsewhere. namely, in the flat characters, the suddenly-there romances, and the annoying writing style. there were so many descriptions teeming with that "she was all thighs and eyelashes," "he was all confidence and cologne," "he was all ___ and ___" sentence structure i abhor. there were so many chapters than began or ended with corny, declarative sentences: "this was growing up. this was the future shifting. this was history." and i get the theme of what home means that was happening here, but if i have to read one more interchangeable harvard or galveston description i will ensure both are permanently closed. i guess in the end, this felt like a very promising debut to me, but there was no moment i could forget it was a debut. sorry if that's b*tchy. bottom line: the real heist was the expectations we lost along the way. ------------ currently-reading updates a heist story about Chinese college students stealing back art from colonizer museums? i'm so excited about this i don't even know what to do with myself. what do i normally do with my hands?! ------------ reading books by asian authors for aapi month! book 1: kim jiyoung, born 1982 book 2: siren queen book 3: the heart principle book 4: n.p. book 5: the hole book 6: set on you book 7: disorientation book 8: parade book 9: if i had your face book 10: joan is okay book 11: strange weather in tokyo book 12: sarong party girls book 13: the wind-up bird chronicle book 14: portrait of a thief

  7. 4 out of 5

    may ➹

    what better heist story is there than Chinese diaspora taking back the Chinese art stolen by Western museums!!!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Grace Li

    This is my book! It's about Chinese American college students stealing back looted art, and it draws inspiration from so many classic heist stories, including the Ocean's movies, the Fast and Furious franchise, and more. And, of course, it also comes from the complicated and often-unethical history of museums acquiring and keeping objects that don't belong to them. But it's also a story about being Chinese American, how it feels to be a part of two cultures and sometimes not enough of either, th This is my book! It's about Chinese American college students stealing back looted art, and it draws inspiration from so many classic heist stories, including the Ocean's movies, the Fast and Furious franchise, and more. And, of course, it also comes from the complicated and often-unethical history of museums acquiring and keeping objects that don't belong to them. But it's also a story about being Chinese American, how it feels to be a part of two cultures and sometimes not enough of either, the heavy weight of the American Dream. I can't wait to share it next year. I still can't believe I get to.

  9. 5 out of 5

    anna|moss

    Portrait of a Thief is an ambitious story of 5 Chinese-American students who take it upon themselves to return stolen Chinese pieces of art to their homeland. The book explores the themes of art theft, museums perpetuating modern-day imperialism and repatriation of art, as well as the life of Chinese-American diaspora kids and the crises they face in the modern day United States. Portrait of a Thief is a fine debut novel; it’s engaging and entertaining and has enough charm to keep the reader inte Portrait of a Thief is an ambitious story of 5 Chinese-American students who take it upon themselves to return stolen Chinese pieces of art to their homeland. The book explores the themes of art theft, museums perpetuating modern-day imperialism and repatriation of art, as well as the life of Chinese-American diaspora kids and the crises they face in the modern day United States. Portrait of a Thief is a fine debut novel; it’s engaging and entertaining and has enough charm to keep the reader interested throughout the book. One of my favorite things about Portrait of a Thief is how it portrays the experience of being a diaspora kid and the burdens and worries that come with it in a very multi-faceted way. I think this theme was explored quite well and provided a lot of insight into how diverse an experience of a single community can be. That being said, I was largely disappointed by this book. It started off interesting, but my enthusiasm quickly dwindled as the problems became more and more obvious. I’m not the biggest fan of our main cast of characters. None of them felt multi-faceted or interesting enough to get attached to. I liked how the diaspora experience of each of them is explored through a different lens, but ultimately, their wants and needs didn’t feel convincing and they themselves didn’t feel likeable at all. Yes, they were all very flawed in their own ways, but there wasn’t enough to make me sympathize with them and appreciate them even more for the aforementioned flaws. Every characters seemed to be defined by one particular thing and never ventured beyond that and after several repetitions of their goals throughout the book without any novelty to them, it got exhausting to read for the 5th or 6th time how the characters wanted something bigger than they had, without every delving deeper into their motivations and desires. However, I did enjoy most of the dynamics between the characters—they played off each other nicely and provided sufficient entertainment. I have to say, Daniel as a character, and the dynamic with his father were written quite well—the difficult father-son relationship struck all the right chords. I enjoyed the plot. It was dynamic and entertaining enough. Of course, at certain points I had to suspend my disbelief, but the experience was still fun. Certain aspects of the story were very unconvincing, especially when we got to the actual heist and how the crew of characters pulled it off. And while it seemed a bit bizarre, the world of art itself is nothing short of bizarre, so I didn’t take much issue with that. I still have some questions and certain plot holes bug me, but ultimately, it was okay. The prose in this book is very repetitive. It is lyrical and flows beautifully, right until a sentence seems like something I’ve already read at least 5 times in the last 5 chapters. It didn’t bother me at first, but as the book progressed it became more and more distracting. I could count how many times the California sky was described in the same manner throughout the book, and while it was beautiful and entertaining the first few times, it quickly became irritating. Be it the description of the environment, the museums, the art works, or the characters’ motivations, this repetitiveness permeated the whole book and it definitely made the experience more boring. Perhaps the thing that disappointed me the most was how the themes related to art were explored, since the book lacks depth when it comes to its themes. Repatriation of art and its use as a tool of power and politics is a fascinating topic and I was so hyped to see it discussed through the diaspora lens. I wasn’t expecting phenomenal characters, or a phenomenal plot or prose, but I definitely wanted to see this thing discussed and explored in great detail while still keeping it entertaining. Art theft, its use as a tool of colonialism and imperialism, art repatriation are all such hefty topics, and truth be told, going into this book I was expecting a somewhat more comprehensive examination of these issues. Instead, it ended up being repetitive and superficial. It was still discussed, but the depth of the discussion created an impression that this was intended for the younger readers—the same idea rehashed over and over again without any additional nuance. Of course, we Want China to get its artifacts and works of art back, but we’re never given any chance to explore this issue in greater depth. We’re told that art signifies power, we’re told how museums engage in smuggling, but we’re never given anything beyond a few repetitive remarks. Again, I suppose the fault mostly lies with me, since I went into this book with overly heightened expectations in that regard. However, kudos to the book since it inspired me to go on a googling spree about the Old Summer Palace in Beijing—I was definitely very interested to learn more about the palace itself as well as the fates of the stolen artifacts. This might be one of the hardest reviews I’ve written. When I first heard the premise of Portrait of a Thief I got insanely excited—I am very interested in art history, preservation of art and how it became a tool of imperialism. So, when I heard a book about repatriation of art delivered in a dynamic heist story, I couldn’t resist. However, upon reading it I quickly discovered that this book isn’t my cup of tea. All in all, I think this book needed a lot more polishing. The repetitive prose, the characters that didn’t feel real enough, as well as certain areas that needed a bit more research pile up on top of each other and take away a lot from the enjoyment. I’m pretty sure this book will find its audience and people will be able to enjoy them; sadly, I'm not one of them. I think this author has a Lot of potential and even if Portrait of a Thief wasn’t up my alley, I’m excited to see what Grace D. Li does next. Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader's copy of Portrait of a Thief.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Justin Chen

    2.5 stars An earnest effort, but this absurdly ambitious, 'The Bling Ring with Asian Americans' debut misses the mark on delivering a cohesive narrative, resulting in a series of self-indulgent melodrama, nonsensical logic, and over-simplification of complex subject matter. As an oversea Chinese myself (my family immigrated to Canada when I was 12), Grace D. Li has perfectly captured the invisible pressure felt by the children; where the definition of success that's worthy of uprooting an entire f 2.5 stars An earnest effort, but this absurdly ambitious, 'The Bling Ring with Asian Americans' debut misses the mark on delivering a cohesive narrative, resulting in a series of self-indulgent melodrama, nonsensical logic, and over-simplification of complex subject matter. As an oversea Chinese myself (my family immigrated to Canada when I was 12), Grace D. Li has perfectly captured the invisible pressure felt by the children; where the definition of success that's worthy of uprooting an entire family is solely judged in practical means (a recognizable degree or financial stability), rather than individual preference (I was forced to apply only to universities, rather than art school as I wished). Portrait of a Thief absolutely shines when it comes to articulating the personal turmoil of its early-20s characters, from the generational/cultural gap between the children and the parents, to the lack of identity when one is strung between two cultures. While the inclusion of an art heist is enticing in concept, its execution here simply doesn't work; I was expecting a rompy, tongue-in-cheek narrative — because let's face it, what kind of adult in their right mind would hire inexperienced college kids to steal from international museums? But turns out Portrait of a Thief is absolutely serious about this setup, and Grace D. Li is no crime writer, so instead of maneuver that out-smarts the authority, we get grossly glossed over sections of thing just magically worked out, which defeats the point of reading a heist novel. I am also conflicted on some of the underlying messages conveyed in Portrait of a Thief, where money is equated to ultimate happiness, and in particular, the idolized view of China. It is never made convincingly clear why these 5 Asian American college students have such a blind devotion to a country they are not fully familiar with; its ambiguity between accomplishing the mission at hand (returning art to its righteous owner), and equating it to general patriotism leaves me a little uncomfortable. Portrait of a Thief feels like 2 ideas being forced together, resulting in a novel that's neither here or there. I wish I can read an intimate deep dive into the psyche of Asian American young adults, without the half-baked caper nonsense, or a rollercoaster action adventure, without the pretentious sentiment trying to be something poignant. As it stands, Portrait of a Thief shows potential, and I appreciate its representation; maybe younger readers will be able to overlook its superficiality and flaw, but objectively speaking this is neither polished nor enjoyable. **This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Much appreciated!**

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nilufer Ozmekik

    Okay! When I’m holding my ereader and taking final look at a digital arc copy of this unique, totally different, intelligently written book but I have to say something about its advertisement as Ocean’s Eleven meets Farewell! First of all: this book is about five amateur thieves’ gathering to accomplish a heist and the main five characters are Asians but this doesn’t mean the book has similarities with both of the movies! I found two things differentiated and well- executed in this book: Perfect Okay! When I’m holding my ereader and taking final look at a digital arc copy of this unique, totally different, intelligently written book but I have to say something about its advertisement as Ocean’s Eleven meets Farewell! First of all: this book is about five amateur thieves’ gathering to accomplish a heist and the main five characters are Asians but this doesn’t mean the book has similarities with both of the movies! I found two things differentiated and well- executed in this book: Perfect , detailed, very relatable characterization with impeccable psychoanalysis. The author represents perfect criticism of cultural diaspora, colonialism, identity crisis of Chinese society by emphasizing crucial facts! Those two facts pick up your interest! Even though this book seems like about a heist: don’t you plan to read something similar to high rated Spanish series- Money Heist ( La Casa de papel) only similar thing this book with that series is focusing on character development. Will- the leader of the gang, street racer Lily, sharp witted, queen of sarcasm Irene, sweet Alex, and Daniel who does his best to find his father, we get introduced to bunch of characters: who have different perspectives, dreams, choices, motives. It was absolutely to read their back stories! The heist parts are not so smart, well planned, detailed, mostly haphazard: they luckily accomplish their mission with more luck less brain work! Overall: it’s promising and riveting reading pick my interest by its complex characters. I wish publishers chose to find better movie examples to give clearer clues what this plot is about! We can define it as action packed/ psychological/ multicultural interest fiction! And I truly enjoy the writing style of the extra I tell author! Special thanks to NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP DUTTON / Tiny Reparations Books for sharing this digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest opinions. instagram facebook twitter

  12. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    ↠ 4 stars A mysterious art theft strikes a match when the thieves leave behind their card for Harvard Senior Will Chen, an art history student working part-time at the Sackler Museum. The perfect student, artist, and son, Will has always strived to curate every aspect of his life, yet the mask begins to slip when he finds himself entangled in an impossible plot. At the behest of his mysterious benefactor, Will becomes the leader of a grand heist to steal back five Chinese artifacts stolen from Be ↠ 4 stars A mysterious art theft strikes a match when the thieves leave behind their card for Harvard Senior Will Chen, an art history student working part-time at the Sackler Museum. The perfect student, artist, and son, Will has always strived to curate every aspect of his life, yet the mask begins to slip when he finds himself entangled in an impossible plot. At the behest of his mysterious benefactor, Will becomes the leader of a grand heist to steal back five Chinese artifacts stolen from Bejing centuries ago, scattered around the world. With fifty million dollars on the line, Will assembles a crew of his closest friends, all with something to gain if they should succeed and lose should they fail. As each of the crew members wrestle with their own complicated relationship with China, the chance to take back a piece of what was stolen long ago is too great to pass up. Willing to risk it all, they may just find a missing part of themselves in the process. Portrait of a Thief is a book that really stole the show with what it was trying to impart to its readers. Debut author Grace D. Li writes effortlessly, baring the deepest parts of her soul to all those experiencing the long-term effects of colonialism and the diaspora. Through an impossible heist with stakes beyond imagine, Li illuminates the complexity of Chinese identity against a profound yearning that lives inside those that have had to surrender a part of themselves in growing up elsewhere. With a catching comparison to Ocean’s Eleven, Portrait of a Thief brings the action up close and center, alongside an unlikely group of friends deciding to take something back for themselves. Out of all the aspects of this debut, one of the most poignant parts is the multitude of identities that are explored within. Although all of the heist members are Chinese American, their views on the mission were incredibly divided as they had all found their identity in different ways. Each of the characters had their own complex relationship with China, which was drawn out with each heist and created an interesting conflict between the group. These relationships were a stark contrast to the conversation happening around the heist and colonization, which I really appreciated as a reader. The diaspora affects all people differently, and that was really evident through the individual relationships and unique connections with China. Rather than have the crew get along, I liked that there was some conflict, both on an identity level and the heist itself. Also the little rivals to lovers storyline we were given made my heart soar. With her debut, Grace D. Li has created a novel equal parts thrilling, and critical. Portrait of a Thief examines the diverse parts of Chinese identity, diaspora, and the ways in which an identity can be in conflict, through a group of people determined to leave their mark on a flawed world. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this arc in exchange for an honest review Trigger warnings: death, alcoholism, grief, racism

  13. 5 out of 5

    aly ☆彡 (slow response; is sick)

    Once I was informed to low my expectation as it's more of a creative writing on a heist than the heist itself, I have to say I enjoy it more than I initially did. I still think the Audiobook kind of take away the enjoyment because the narrators are so dull but it wasn't so bad as a whole once I interchange it with my physical book. RTC Once I was informed to low my expectation as it's more of a creative writing on a heist than the heist itself, I have to say I enjoy it more than I initially did. I still think the Audiobook kind of take away the enjoyment because the narrators are so dull but it wasn't so bad as a whole once I interchange it with my physical book. RTC

  14. 4 out of 5

    m.

    eARC provided by Netgalley in exhange for an honest review. Portrait of a Thief is, perhaps, one of the books with the best synopsis I've ever come across, and no matter how much this book disappointed me I still hope it will somehow miraculously change into something worthy of its concept. Following a group of pretentious college students, Li managed to not only sink the book's amazing premise straight to the sixth circle of hell, but to make all the subject matters she chooses to tackle into eARC provided by Netgalley in exhange for an honest review. Portrait of a Thief is, perhaps, one of the books with the best synopsis I've ever come across, and no matter how much this book disappointed me I still hope it will somehow miraculously change into something worthy of its concept. Following a group of pretentious college students, Li managed to not only sink the book's amazing premise straight to the sixth circle of hell, but to make all the subject matters she chooses to tackle into a snoozefest. I'm not an idiot: I'm very aware of the fact this book was not written for me, but I have to say I've read a good amout of books that deal with the topics this book tackles in a much more nuanced and intelligent way. I am happy for all the people this story will impact in a good way, but I think we should all strive for quality over... whatever this is. The stage is set: a prestigious Chinese company decides to ramdomly hire a group of twenty something year olds to organize a heist and steal back pieces of Chinese art European countries stole, instead of, maybe, I don't know, hiring professionals? But it is not enough to be completely unprepared and frankly stupid (organizing the entire heist on Google fucking Docs, Zoom, and my personal favorite, Whatsapp, which I can safely say is not the cryptic steel-proof safe space they make it out to be, ask any of member of the Brazilian government and they will tell you) they have to be the dark academia, gloomy, depressed people of everyone's nightmare. Portrait of a Thief is not a heist story: it's a poorly written literary fiction novel. Which wouldn't necessarily bother me, if it'd decided to follow the set standard of literary fiction and include good character work. Every character can be summed up to a single sentence. This is not inherently a bad thing, it's a common exercise they give you in writing classes, but it's supposed to be only that: an exercise. Instead, we get all of them repeating the same sentence about themselves and each other in every chapter. Will "likes beautiful things", and Lily is running away from something, but never towards it, etc. The writing style is one of the only good things in this novel, yet it is also driven to the ground by how unpolished the entire thing is. Endless descriptions of the sky, purple prose that forgoes meaning all together in favor of just "being pretty", which simply doesn't work in its favor when all someone can do is repeat the same things over and over and call it atmospheric. I won't even bother trying to make sense of how the plot plays out, just know it is, you guessed it, stupid. But another thing: what is it with authors refusing the write down the word lesbian? It's 2022. If you can mention the COVID-19 pandemic, you can say a character is a lesbian. All this to say, I am constantly blown away by mediocrity. To repeat myself, Portrait of a Thief could've been one of the best books of 2022. Instead it is doomed to reside in my biggest disappointment list.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tammie

    Edit: bumping it down because the more time I spend away from this book the more I dislike it lol I, like so many other readers and reviewers, went into this book with a set of expectations based on what was sold, and unfortunately for me, this book fell pretty flat on all fronts. I understand that this book is a debut, and for what it's worth, I do think that a lot of readers will enjoy this book if they're just looking for a quick easy read. However, I really expected more based on interviews w Edit: bumping it down because the more time I spend away from this book the more I dislike it lol I, like so many other readers and reviewers, went into this book with a set of expectations based on what was sold, and unfortunately for me, this book fell pretty flat on all fronts. I understand that this book is a debut, and for what it's worth, I do think that a lot of readers will enjoy this book if they're just looking for a quick easy read. However, I really expected more based on interviews with the author that I'd seen as well as the marketing for this book. I want to start off with what I did actually like about this book - Li has mentioned in interviews that one of the main messages she wanted to get across was that Chinese-Americans are not a monolith, and I think for the most part, she did a pretty good job at this (with a couple of fairly big caveats which I will discuss in the next paragraphs). I think that Li did a great job at showing 5 characters with very different relationships to their family, culture, and homeland, and this is probably the only thing that I would wholeheartedly praise this book for. I think Li really captured the nuances of what it means to be part of the Chinese-American diaspora, and the difficulties that come with trying to reconcile two (or more) very vastly different cultures. That being said, I think Li missed the mark here on two fronts. Firstly, I don't think making all your characters come from fairly privileged backgrounds (some more than others, but overall still very privileged) is really conducive to the message that Chinese-Americans are not a monolith. They all attend top tier universities in the United States, with the exception of Alex, who dropped out of MIT to work as a software engineer at Google, which I guess is slightly different, but really not that far off the overall path, if you know what I mean. Secondly, and more egregiously, in my opinion, is the flattening of the different communities within the Chinese-American diaspora, but specifically the flattening of disapora families that originate from Hong Kong vs China. While it is not explicitly said that Alex's family originates from Hong Kong, it is heavily implied through Li constantly reminding us that she speaks Cantonese, not Mandarin like the others, and that she reads traditional Chinese characters, not simplified. Why, then, is her last name a standard Mandarin last name? Why would her family have named romanized their restaurant name in pinyin instead of a Cantonese romanization? This is honestly so baffling to me and it honestly really irritated me, especially since at the beginning of each POV chapter, all the characters are re-introduced with their full names, and seeing "Huang" instead of "Wong" for Alex every few chapters just made me irrationally angry. Not to mention, the Hong Kong diaspora has a very different relationship with China and Chinese history, and I think ignoring this entirely was a miss. Aside from these issues though, I honestly just did not think this book was particularly well-written or well-edited. In terms of the editing, I definitely noticed random inconsistencies that seemed like editing issues, such as one random instance of a Chinese character's name written with the surname second instead of first like it was in every other instance, or the 3 random chapters out of 69 where the POV character wasn't re-introduced with their full names. I don't know what's going on with publishing, but it definitely felt like this book needed an extra editing pass. In terms of the writing, I'm so sorry to say that I absolutely hated the writing style. It was repetitive and felt contrived - it felt like the author was trying to say something profound every other sentence, but ended up just listing off the same few metaphors over and over. There's also weird mixing of verb tenses that made the narrative voice just feel very odd, and I think despite some sentences and passages being really beautifully constructed, the way in which the author kept trying to use the same style of metaphors and sentences to describe mundane things felt unnecessary and lessened the impact that those important moments had. I also just found some of the repeated imagery choices to be odd, to say the least - why was the rising sun a recurring motif? Are these people just all super early risers? But also, while this might not have been intentional on the author's part, the rising sun is the symbol for Japanese imperialism, and using this as a recurring motif/image throughout a book that's supposed to be a critique on Western imperialism of China is honestly just kind of weird. The plot and characters were also not good, in my opinion. The heist plot was completely nonsensical, and if I had to read one more reference to Fast & Furious or Ocean's Eleven I was going to throw my e-reader across the room. The heists were a series of plot conveniences, and did not have any of the thrilling elements I'd typically look for in a heist (even the ones that are referenced!) - there's no outsmarting the authorities, no creative problem-solving, nothing. The characters did not feel like a crew at all - I didn't get a sense that any of them even really liked each other that much, and one of the romances that was introduced was completely out of left field and so underdeveloped, as well as unnecessary to the story. The only character that actually felt like a fully developed character was Daniel, and overall, none of the characters' motivations were very well fleshed-out or believable. I might feel a certain way about looted Chinese art in Western museums, but there's a pretty big gap between writing thinkpieces and papers about the repatriation of art and committing international art theft. In terms of the exploration of the theme of art theft, colonialism, and the repatriation of art, I thought it was okay. It was incredibly shallow and lacked any sort of depth, but I did appreciate the mention of it nonetheless. I expected a lot more based on how this book is marketed, and I think that the if the book had focused more on the actual history of the art that is discussed in the book and how it actually tied into power dynamics and politics, it would've been much more impactful. Instead, we just have the same few lines repeated throughout the book about how "art is power" and that art history is an important tool for understanding colonization, but we're never actually shown how exactly it is used as such. Overall, while I found this book easy to read, I also was incredibly disappointed and did not have a good time with this. I cannot actively recommend this to anyone, especially anyone who is interested in it based on the blurb, but if you're just looking for an easy read that doesn't require a lot of thinking, I think you'd enjoy this more than I did.

  16. 4 out of 5

    elaine

    2.5. first i have to establish that the heist logic is nonexistent and the authorities are laughably incompetent, but this isn’t really a book about heisting so i’m moving on lol. the writing has this floaty quality where it’s not completely sure what it wants to say, when this premise could’ve really benefited from deft, grounded prose. there’s this one sentence structure the author uses over and over: (the building was all glass and glinting light) / (the penthouse was all light and burning gol 2.5. first i have to establish that the heist logic is nonexistent and the authorities are laughably incompetent, but this isn’t really a book about heisting so i’m moving on lol. the writing has this floaty quality where it’s not completely sure what it wants to say, when this premise could’ve really benefited from deft, grounded prose. there’s this one sentence structure the author uses over and over: (the building was all glass and glinting light) / (the penthouse was all light and burning gold) / (he was all lean lines and expressive hands) / (she was all certainty and sharp, surprising confidence) and while it does sometimes produce a pretty turn of phrase, it reads as juvenile and doesn’t add much other than surface-level description. i really dislike when authors use characters as soapboxes, and there’s an abundance of that here. every character reiterates the same few points in the same way until it’s tiresome to read. distinct character voices are super tricky to pull off and unfortunately this book doesn’t—i’m not going to be too hard on it though, because very rarely does 5 povs work. i do however think that the familial relationships (daniel and his father, will and irene) were pretty well executed, and i wish there’d been more pagetime dedicated to them. i also never felt that the bonds between the main characters were as strong as the author wanted to convince me they were, but at least irene and alex got to kiss. a win for mean gay girls and mean gay girl likers everywhere. the politics stuff is like 😵‍💫 u can always count on a ya author to tell you unprompted how much they hate communism! between this and these violent delights it should be a genre staple at this point! but whatever. what i am going to say is that li really wants to have her cake (exalt china and chinese culture) and eat it too (skirt around acknowledging the role mao-era communism played in shaping said culture and how capitalism is the main driver behind colonialism, the thing her book is about).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    a novel about Chinese diaspora individuals reclaiming the looted art of their culture via ART HEIST??!!!

  18. 5 out of 5

    ScrappyMags

    ⭐️⭐️.5 out of 5 A heist steeped in history, but thin on action. ⏰ 𝐒𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐒𝐮𝐦𝐦𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐄𝐯𝐞𝐫: Will, Irene, Daniel, Lily, and Alex - a prize of $50 million awaits this team of college-students-cum-art-thieves who wish to return Chinese art plundered by the West back to its rightful owners. 💡𝐓𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐬: I think what did this book a great disservice was referencing Ocean’s Eleven - a slick, fast-paced, let’s-get-rich heist film. This book is NOT that, leaving expectations deflated. (Ugh… I hate when that hap ⭐️⭐️.5 out of 5 A heist steeped in history, but thin on action. ⏰ 𝐒𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐒𝐮𝐦𝐦𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐄𝐯𝐞𝐫: Will, Irene, Daniel, Lily, and Alex - a prize of $50 million awaits this team of college-students-cum-art-thieves who wish to return Chinese art plundered by the West back to its rightful owners. 💡𝐓𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐬: I think what did this book a great disservice was referencing Ocean’s Eleven - a slick, fast-paced, let’s-get-rich heist film. This book is NOT that, leaving expectations deflated. (Ugh… I hate when that happens!) Comparing Ocean’s to this novel (with altruistic reasons for theft and character-heavy description) left me wanting the “dazzle” and surprise that Ocean’s Eleven delivered. This is a novel about the Chinese immigrant experience and the children who are further distanced from the country their parents (or themselves as children) immigrated from, the Chinese diaspora, and how that connection affects or doesn’t affect individual characters. More serious than seriously entertaining. This book delves into the five protagonists - their unique experiences, how they view the world, and how being Chinese (or Chinese-American) defines them, but it left me wanting… due to the “heist-hype” if you will. Most of the book for me was a repetitive, constant rehashing of facts - where each character was from, their majors, one a commitment-phobe, another lesbian, another a street racer, etc instead of deepening the character study which was merely surface-level for me. The first heist was the most entertaining part to read, but then I felt the prose turned dogged - dragging page to page until I wanted to skip pages to advance to the next heist where pacing quickened. I tried to delve into the characters but due to the repetitive descriptions and the college-kid-waxing-existential-whining, I lost my wonder. 𝗔𝗹𝗹 𝗺𝘆 𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗶𝗲𝘄𝘀 𝗮𝘃𝗮𝗶𝗹𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲 𝗮𝘁 𝗦𝗰𝗿𝗮𝗽𝗽𝘆𝗠𝗮𝗴𝘀.𝗰𝗼𝗺 𝗮𝗿𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗽𝘂𝗯𝗹𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻. 📚𝐆𝐞𝐧𝐫𝐞: Heist/Contemporary Fiction 😍𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨: I think perhaps those more enraptured by the history might find more redeeming value in the novel 🙅‍♀️ 𝐍𝐨𝐭 𝐫𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨: If you expect Oceans Eleven quickness and slick, fast-paced timing Thank you to the author, NetGalley and Penguin Group Dutton/Tiny Reparations Books for my advanced copy in exchange for my always-honest review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    lisa (taylor's version)

    all of my expectations have been exceeded. this book is a literary eloquent story about colonialism and stolen culture as well as individual experience of the modern diaspora. for me and my geopolitics major, it was an extremely satisfying commentary on the link between looted art (of the western colonists) and a nation's identity. it was overall a very satisfying read of which the writing is not the greatest (repetitions, formulations, some problems with tones in POVs) but the refreshing commen all of my expectations have been exceeded. this book is a literary eloquent story about colonialism and stolen culture as well as individual experience of the modern diaspora. for me and my geopolitics major, it was an extremely satisfying commentary on the link between looted art (of the western colonists) and a nation's identity. it was overall a very satisfying read of which the writing is not the greatest (repetitions, formulations, some problems with tones in POVs) but the refreshing commentary remains of great importance in the genre (in my very humble opinion) (i hope that a french publisher will pick this up soon so i can use it in my future essays 😩)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    3.5 stars, rounded up I loved the premise of this story. Right now, there are multiple stories in the news about repatriation of art to the countries it came from. In this book, the art is Chinese. But this is no legal thriller. And it’s no heist action story. The blurb mentions Ocean’s Eleven, which leads to a sense of false advertising. Ocean’s Eleven was all about the action, which this book lacks. A Chinese corporation engages five Chinese American students to steal back five bronze sculpture 3.5 stars, rounded up I loved the premise of this story. Right now, there are multiple stories in the news about repatriation of art to the countries it came from. In this book, the art is Chinese. But this is no legal thriller. And it’s no heist action story. The blurb mentions Ocean’s Eleven, which leads to a sense of false advertising. Ocean’s Eleven was all about the action, which this book lacks. A Chinese corporation engages five Chinese American students to steal back five bronze sculptures from five different museums. These young people have skills, but they’re not art thieves. In fact, at the beginning, I kept questioning why the company, given the money they were willing to pay, didn’t hire professionals. The book spends more time on the characters’ identity issues than moving the story forward. The title should have given me a clue what I was going to get. We hear from each of the five, with alternating POVs. This slows the story down in one way while giving the reader a strong glimpse at the issues to be addressed. Unfortunately, the main issue is living up to parental expectations (they are all children of immigrants) which gets done to death. Don’t go into this expecting a heist thriller. If you do, you’ll be disappointed. Once I let go of that expectation, I enjoyed the thoughts and discussions about who owns art, about what is acceptable to get it back. I would have liked more of that. I thought a better editing job, deleting some of the repetition of the guilt these kids carry around, would have helped. I felt like I was being hit over the head over and over again. Trust me, I get it. But overall, I enjoyed this. I thought the ending worked particularly well. It also made for a good audio experience.

  21. 5 out of 5

    theresa

    Maybe 2.5? I'm conflicted. When I first heard about Portrait of a Thief I was immediately taken in by the concept of a group of Chinese-American students stealing Chinese art back from western museums. And this book delivered on that, alongside explorations of colonialism through art and Chinese-American identity. On paper, it’s a great book. I felt that this book’s strength lay in the themes it explored. I really enjoyed the exploration of Chinese-American identity, especially as it was through t Maybe 2.5? I'm conflicted. When I first heard about Portrait of a Thief I was immediately taken in by the concept of a group of Chinese-American students stealing Chinese art back from western museums. And this book delivered on that, alongside explorations of colonialism through art and Chinese-American identity. On paper, it’s a great book. I felt that this book’s strength lay in the themes it explored. I really enjoyed the exploration of Chinese-American identity, especially as it was through the lens of five different characters who all saw their identity in a slightly different light. In a similar vein, I really liked the conversations surrounding colonialism, ownership and power in art. The story was a great vehicle to explore this and I appreciated how the story was resolved in relation to this theme. I also enjoyed the writing style, it had a beautiful simplicity to it. The slight changes between the ways different POV characters described the world around them was a nice touch: Will, the artist, saw the world in sweeping brush strokes and Daniel, the aspiring doctor, often referred to the intricacies of the human body. However, I just wasn’t hooked. This book took me a long time to read. When I was reading it it held my attention but I just didn’t find myself wanting to pick it up and so it dragged on. Furthermore, as lovely as I found the writing, it began to get repetitive. It felt like the characters were having the same conversations over and over with nothing new coming from them. Certain sentiments were repeated several times (especially in internal monologues) and I felt that this was unnecessary. I also struggled with the characters. They didn’t feel fully fleshed out and three dimensional to me. Perhaps because there were so many in not a long book that they didn’t get enough page time. Similarly, the relationships lacked development. I also found the heist plotline a bit flimsy. It required a lot of suspension of disbelief that these young adults with no experience could watch a couple heist movies and suddenly rob high security museums. This was addressed in the book and I think is intentional to some extent but I still found the resolution a bit weak. Portrait of a Thief had an amazing concept but, in my opinion, didn’t manage to stick the landing. I feel that this book tried to do too much: it had so many characters, so many important conversations, two relationships and also the heists and everything that came with them. While it excelled in its themes, other essential parts of the book fell to the wayside, resulting in an underdeveloped story and characters. I wish I had loved this as the concept was right up my street, especially with two sapphic main characters, but unfortunately it just wasn’t for me. I also talk about books here: youtube | instagram | twitter *eARC received in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley*

  22. 4 out of 5

    ash | आश ♥ [superache enthusiast]

    omfg that was...a journey. this definitely took me longer than expected to finish but it was definitely worth it. unrealistic (wth the heist stuff) but i loved the immigrant child struggles (being american and chinese), the found(?) family and the prose-ish rtc.! ----- AHH AN ANTI-COLONIALISM HEIST BOOK W ALL ASIAN-AMERICAN/POC CHARACTERS?? and this releases super close to my bday so another plus point and there are sapphics in this apparently sO

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 Arc provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Synopsis ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ "Nothing is wrong with wanting everything as long as you know how to get it." . Will Chen, a Chinese American Harvard art student gets approached by China with an opportunity to steal five ancient sculptures stolen by museums in the West centuries ago from Beijing through colonialism. He gathers four more people for the heist- Irene Chen - a conman who can talk her way out of anything Daniel Lian - a thief ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 Arc provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Synopsis ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ "Nothing is wrong with wanting everything as long as you know how to get it." . Will Chen, a Chinese American Harvard art student gets approached by China with an opportunity to steal five ancient sculptures stolen by museums in the West centuries ago from Beijing through colonialism. He gathers four more people for the heist- Irene Chen - a conman who can talk her way out of anything Daniel Lian - a thief and a lockpick Lily Wu - A gateway driver and car racer Alex Huang - An MIT dropout software engineer/hacker. "They were all children of immigrants. They were all searching for something to hold on to." Each member of the crew has a very complicated relationship with China and their identity of being Chinese American. If they succeed they get ten million dollars each and a chance to make history. But if they lose, it's the end of everything. ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Plot ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Every child of immigrants had the same story. “At first, it felt like running away.” The plot of this book tried to accomplish two things- Chinese American representation which I loved, and the heist aspect which I thought was just ok. I loved the way being an immigrant was written so well. I cannot express how much I loved seeing that. These characters have such a complicated relationship with their home country, parents, and the American dream. It was filled with beautiful quotes and thoughts from these people who just want to belong. "[...] was many things, but in the end he was his parents’ son, and all he had ever wanted was to make them proud. Worth should not have been measured like this, in the weight of Ivy League syllables and tuition paid like an offering, but this, always, had been the American Dream." Not that I read many stories dealing with biracial but among the ones I have read, I think this deals with it the best. Even as someone who isn't necessarily an immigrant, I found this to be so emotional and wonderful. If you're Asian or biracial or an immigrant, or most importantly Chinese American, you need to read this! “Art belongs to the creator,” Will said, his voice soft, “not the conqueror. No matter what the law says, or what treaties are signed. For too long, museums have held on to art that isn’t theirs to keep, bought more because they know they can.” Now, as much as I love the Chinese American representation, I cannot say the same about the heist. It was just there and was mostly on the back burner. I love a good heist but wasn't satisfied with this one because the focus was just on the characters' internal conflict. I think I went in with the wrong expectations expecting graphic heist scenes when they only last a couple of chapters in total. There were also times when things felt.... silly and unrealistic-one character uses a bobby pin to open a safe, they use google docs to plan out an illegal heist, and also watch heist movies to take notes. But I also do understand that the heist was never the main part, the internal conflict was and I just had the wrong expectations. Another thing is the lack of plot twists, there was one tiny one towards the end but we all knew it was coming and I kept expecting for another to drop and knock me off my feet but that, unfortunately, wasn’t the case💔 ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Characters ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Will - I will die for China. Irene - I will die for honor. Lily - I will die for a good car. Alex - I will die for my family. Daniel - I will die. I enjoyed the characters and the relationship between them quite a lot, Will the crew leader, Irene is his sister, her roommate Lily, Daniel Irene, and Will’s best friend, and finally Alex, Will's ex-girlfriend ish (they went on 2 dates and ended it). Nothing wrong here except like I said, a huge portion of this book represents being an immigrant so it focused more on the internal conflicts of each individual character instead of the relationship between the characters even though it was there and I enjoyed it. The characters are well-written but not exactly lovable, their complicated emotions carry the book a lot though. 💫 Will "Will thought—as he always did—of history. It was made in moments like this. Will was just ok, just like most of the main characters. His insecurities and beliefs are well-written but I’m very attached to him but nothing wrong with him either. 💫 Irene “The news called us experts,” Lily said, thinking of the news article Alex had referenced. She pulled out a textbook from her bookshelf. “If only they could see us now.” “International art thieves,” Irene said, laughing, “with midterms next week.” Irene was.....complicated. She was Will’s sister and her reputation of being able to talk out her way of anything was very realistic in my opinion and I’ve seen some people in real life like that who just get listened to and gets their way with a lot of things. BUT I just do not get how rude she kept being to Alex at the beginning for being Will’s “ex” when all they did was go on two dates. I get why she did it but I was just very annoyed with her behavior. 💫 Lily Lily kind of faded in the background for me for most of the book, I don’t have much to say about her either except that my favorite quote from this book was about her. "[Lily] could never be Chinese enough for China. She could never be American enough for here" 💫 Daniel What must it have been like to grow up like this, with a father who caught thieves for a living? What must it be like for Daniel now, to know that he was going to become one of them? “Stop falling for thieves with a tragic past and daddy issues, Elena. It’s not something great!” I say as I fangirl and scream over Daniel. Need I say more!!??! Seriously, Daniel was the only guy I felt attachment over, his father is in the FBI that makes things very complicated, and his self-loathing was written so well. “I hate you sometimes, you know.” Will’s gaze didn’t leave the skyline. “I know.” His voice was soft. “Sometimes I hate me too.” His relationship with his father was so beautiful and emotional😭😭 💫 Alex Alex’s desire to do something (anything!) was so relatable. Other than that, I’m not very attached she was again just ok. She had been at Google for almost a year, one of countless interchangeable software engineers in Silicon Valley, and sometimes she was afraid she would blink and the next five, ten, twenty years would pass like this, working a job she did not love in an apartment that had never felt like hers. What would she have to show for it? What else made up a life? ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Romance ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ 🌠Irene and Alex "Sometimes Alex was certain she hated Irene. Other times she thought of Irene across from her on a Paris morning, her features softer without the makeup she wore like armor, the practiced knife of her smile. For a moment, Alex had had the urge to brush her thumb against the curve of the other girl’s cheek, press her fingers to the hollow of her throat. They have kind of a rival to lovers romance and even though I hated Irene’s reasoning for not liking Alex initially, I really liked their relationship later on. It was developed really well and it added a little something to the book! 🌠Will and Irene "Irene raised a brow. She had met Will’s exes before, knew what he called temporary they never did. It was hard to determine who was truly to blame—was it her brother, who liked nothing more than to surround himself with beautiful things, or the girls who thought they could change him?—but either way, she had not wanted the fault lines of his relationships to splinter anything else" Will as you can tell was someone who had many “temporary” girlfriends in his life. I don’t have many things to say about this relationship without spoilers, but I’m not sure I get what this was trying to do...? Or if it was just there for entertainment purposes, was there any deeper meaning behind including this ship? The focus on the romance already is very very little especially Will and Lily and I neither care nor get what is happening and just wanted to be fed with more content :’) It didn’t ruin my enjoyment but I just don’t get why it was here and probably wanted more detail on where things ended up going between them. ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Writing ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ "Scars were nothing but tissue, keratin, a reminder of what the body could endure.” Oh, I really love the way this was written. This goes hand in hand with biracial representation and the way their complex emotions were written so well. The book is filled with love for China and it really shows ♥️♥️♥️ ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ Conclusion ⋇⋆✦⋆⋇ 🆗✔️Plot - I loved the Chinese American rep but the heist was just meh. 🆗Characters - They were well-written and had their own personality but I wasn’t very attached with them, except Daniel our cinnamon roll with daddy issues. ✔️Writing - So emotionally written and lovely. 🆗Romance - I enjoyed the minor sapphic romance between Alex and Irene but I really wanted more information and content on Will and Lily. I think you should really read this book if you’re looking for good biracial representation, probably not for the epic heist. Recommendation if you like this book - A Brilliant Plan, The Gilded Wolves Pre-read review I thought this was YA?? WTH But nevermind, I got an arc YAY Can't wait to read this ahhhh Rating system ❌= I did not like it 🆗= It was ok, I have nothing against but it doesn't stand out ✔️ = It was great and I wouldn't change anything about it ❌🆗 = Somewhere between I did not like it and ok 🆗✔️= Somewhere between ok and great

  24. 4 out of 5

    gauri

    They were all children of immigrants. They were all searching for something to hold on to. i'm conflicted about the rating for this myself because i did like it overall but i expected something more from it i guess. portrait of a thief is a great debut, one that talks about colonialism through art. stolen art, looted and bought by western museums for over centuries from the less powerful countries. grace d li had a clear vision as to how portray that and make us questions through the actions They were all children of immigrants. They were all searching for something to hold on to. i'm conflicted about the rating for this myself because i did like it overall but i expected something more from it i guess. portrait of a thief is a great debut, one that talks about colonialism through art. stolen art, looted and bought by western museums for over centuries from the less powerful countries. grace d li had a clear vision as to how portray that and make us questions through the actions of the characters whether taking back this looted art, which once belonged to them and their preceding generations, is really a theft. the deep critique on imperialism and the anticolonial agenda is present throughout. i also really liked the character dynamics and their experiences as diaspora kids following the 'american dream'. its incredibly character driven, each with their own struggles with their chinese american identity as well as the looming question of their futures. with 5 different povs leading the story, i definitely found them relatable, especially in the beginning, as each of their melancholies, dreams, expectations and burdens were brought to life. all of them questioning how chinese or how american they are is a common diaspora experience which was captured in the raw form. also ahh, the writing is incredibly simple to follow and uses pretty metaphors... maybe a lot of them lol. but ultimately, after the couple chapters in the beginning, they started to fall flat. and their povs started to feel repetitive and tended to blend together which led me to not care about them. after all they're amature 20s something kids attempting a heist, which if you have trouble suspending belief, you will find it to be very clumsily planned and executed. so while i liked reading about them i also wish we'd gotten more depth about their personalities for me to sympathise with them. i also wish that the dynamics (romantic and found family!) between each of them was explored further too because there was some interesting tension and rivalry going on there. i really wanted more intrigue reading the heist aspect, but portrait of a thief felt more like a coming of age novel. so yeah if like me you're misguided by the marketing, lower your expectations for this being a smartly executed heist. its all way too easy, especially in today's world of tech. i strongly think this book could've been better for me if it was just increased in words and page length, to completely give justice to the character arcs and the heists. so overall i liked the narrative of portrait of a thief, very unique story with honest discussions on museum ethics and the lasting effects of the past of colonisation, one i think will resonate with immigrant kids. grace d li is definitely a talent, her prose vivid to imagine. but then again, this had a lot of room for being better in my opinion. thank you to penguin group dutton and netgalley for the arc!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Althea ☾

    "For all people care about looting, it doesn't seem to matter when it's museums doing it." it delivers the discussions you're probably picking this book up for. Such as that on being diaspora and of the stolen art in museums. But I just could not get over how unrealistic it all was haha. Not that every book needs to be realistic but it needs to be believable in the context of the story. I also could never get into to character dynamics but maybe that's on me and i should stop reading YA. It's "For all people care about looting, it doesn't seem to matter when it's museums doing it." it delivers the discussions you're probably picking this book up for. Such as that on being diaspora and of the stolen art in museums. But I just could not get over how unrealistic it all was haha. Not that every book needs to be realistic but it needs to be believable in the context of the story. I also could never get into to character dynamics but maybe that's on me and i should stop reading YA. It's still a lot better than a lot of other YA i have read though and it did highlight the themes it wanted, which I really appreciated. Especially the Asian family dynamics, I will always relate to those. — 3.0 — ⇢ content warnings// ⤜ pre-read review ⤛ hello hello hello it has a cover now <3 bringing attention to this book because heist + college students + asians is my type

  26. 4 out of 5

    ☔️ lin chuchu ☔️ 林楚楚

    rep: all chinese/chinese american cast, lesbian chinese american mc, wlw chinese american mc Thank you Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review :) edit: gonna bump this from 3.5 to 4.25 stars bc i still can't stop thinking about it because good god even if its tediously repetitive i needed this book in my broken little diaspora heart grace li really knew exactly how to attack every single chinese american kid and decided to write the gay heist book version of mitski's your best ame rep: all chinese/chinese american cast, lesbian chinese american mc, wlw chinese american mc Thank you Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review :) edit: gonna bump this from 3.5 to 4.25 stars bc i still can't stop thinking about it because good god even if its tediously repetitive i needed this book in my broken little diaspora heart grace li really knew exactly how to attack every single chinese american kid and decided to write the gay heist book version of mitski's your best american girl in the most lovely prose huh 😭😭😭 this was...just absolutely lovely. while not exactly what i was expecting, portrait of a thief was truly an atmospheric and aesthetic experience, as well as, in its heart, a melancholic love letter to the chinese american diaspora kids, with these five main characters representing each aspect of the longing and pain that comes with being 2+ generation immigrants that unconsciously lingers in my mind every single day. how is it that i related to like. everyone in the book, especially daniel with his grief of never being able to return to his childhood home in beijing, since i, like him, also grew up playing the streets of fuzhou, will with this burning rage towards colonialism and wishing that the country he's barely ever be to would love him as much as he loved it, and lily with her detachment towards the culture of her background, constantly feeling like it has no right to belong to her so she doesn't bother learning about it at all. honestly, unless you're a chinese american or also a fellow diaspora kid, this book would really not hit as hard as it's meant to be. oh, also i appreciated the enemies to lovers sapphics. i loved mean lesbian irene who cannot for the life of her not antagonize her crush and alex huang who thinks irene hates her so she pretends to hate her right back but oh no she's hot??. thanks grace li for my life. there were so many gay quotes i would love to share but i can't until next year when the book actually comes out,,,, PAIN. everyone is also really hot so take that as you will the reasons that i can't give this one higher than 4.25 stars though was mainly because i was expecting a fun, character relationship driven, dynamic and plot centered heist story, which is not what this book was aiming for (though it still absolutely delivered in its own way so i wasn't too disappointed). not to set anyone up for disappointment, but the heist part of this book is incredibly minimal. the characters' relationships with each other also weren't really developed as much as i would have liked, and this book read more like a character study of each character rather than being centered around an action filled heist, which is what i would've preferred out of this reading experience. also the writing, while beautiful, really was not for me. it reminds me really of honey girl's writing style, but something i noticed was that a lot of the same messages and lines about each character were shoved in our face repeatedly in different forms, or sometimes not in different forms. besides the overepetition, the amount of philosophical internal monologues really slowed the plot down and really bored me at times, though im guessing from reading the entire novel that a plot driven heist wasn't really the author's intention, so it’s really just a me thing lololol then, finally, small critique about the sapphics: please just call irene a lesbian. it's confirmed that she is one, right? it's not a bad word and it would be so refreshing and cathartic people like me, a chinese lesbian, to see a person like me on page call herself one. that's something ive noticed among many authors is that they absolutely refuse to do it and it's tiring. thanks overall, i loved this book, just didn't expect it to deliver the things i wanted the way it did. would highly recommend it if you want to drown in the pain of diaspora and if you want to read the book version of every single mitski song ever, but not if you want a escapist anti-colonialism plot based heist story. one last note: this story would ABSOLUTELY WORK AMAZING on the screen and i CANNOT wait for the life of me FOR THE NETFLIX ADAPTATION THATS IN THE WORKS. before reading edit 10/14/21: JUST GOT AN ARC OF MY MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE LOVING LIFE RN edit 7/20/21: 🚨 🚨🚨🚨 ALERT ALERT THERE ARE SAPPHICS IN A PORTRAIT OF A THIEF IM SCREMAINF ANS CRYING OH MUH GOD THIS IS NOT A DRILL 🚨🚨🚨 i think im staying alive until 2022 simply for diverse diaspora chinese american college students planning a heist over zoom to steal back their culture from the colonizers

  27. 4 out of 5

    ale ♡

    for curiosity, i started a few chapters and holy shit, this book is so good, omg, i'm really loving it! - shut up. this book looks so fucking awesome and i'm here for the heist yessssss for curiosity, i started a few chapters and holy shit, this book is so good, omg, i'm really loving it! - shut up. this book looks so fucking awesome and i'm here for the heist yessssss

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book but I ended up really enjoyed this book. I didn’t know that it was based on a true story. It was a good change of pace from what I normally gravitate towards. It definitely had echos of Oceans Eleven and it was quite entertaining. I also found it interesting that the characters wrestled with their identities they created for themselves while thinking about their Chinese heritage. Will Chen the eldest child and the picture perfect son. As a senior at I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book but I ended up really enjoyed this book. I didn’t know that it was based on a true story. It was a good change of pace from what I normally gravitate towards. It definitely had echos of Oceans Eleven and it was quite entertaining. I also found it interesting that the characters wrestled with their identities they created for themselves while thinking about their Chinese heritage. Will Chen the eldest child and the picture perfect son. As a senior at Harvard, he majors in art history when a mysterious and rich stranger offers him an unimaginable job opportunity to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures that were taken from Beijing long ago. Will puts together an unstoppable team, each tasked with a specific job essential to the heists success. If they succeed not only will they get fifty million dollars but they will create history. If they fail they will lose everything. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for this arc in exchange for my honest review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    cossette

    i feel so seen also this might be my new favorite book

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mai-Anh

    (view spoiler)[This was one of my most anticipated reads this year. While it started off brilliantly, it petered off toward the end. Will - Every Asian American’s dream son/son-in-law. Harvard student. Brilliant. A good boy. Until he’s not. When he gets invited to steal back China’s lost treasures from five western museums, he goes for it. I got v v triggered when a white man called Will Chinese and not American. Chinese Americans aren’t Chinese. They’re American. I’m going to start calling peop (view spoiler)[This was one of my most anticipated reads this year. While it started off brilliantly, it petered off toward the end. Will - Every Asian American’s dream son/son-in-law. Harvard student. Brilliant. A good boy. Until he’s not. When he gets invited to steal back China’s lost treasures from five western museums, he goes for it. I got v v triggered when a white man called Will Chinese and not American. Chinese Americans aren’t Chinese. They’re American. I’m going to start calling people European Americans. Feel free to @ me. Irene - Will’s overlooked sister. Is it because she doesn’t go to Harvard? Or just because she’s a girl? I hate this about non white families btw. Daniel - Chinese American born in China. Also smart. Also cute? Dad’s a FBI art theft specialist. Uh oh. Lily - Street racer from Galveston. Badass. Somehow ends up with Will. Eww. She could’ve had Min. More on that in a sec. Alex - Beautiful. Smart. Boring. Moves from one Chen to another with zero context. Don’t add LGBTQIA+ rep at the end just for the fuck of it. They deserve their own stories. Yuling - Chinese billionaire that initiates the heist. Min - Fuerdai street racer. Lily bb, you could’ve had this! I would hit anyone named Min. That came out wrong. @Min Yoongi Some white reviewers will be butthurt and yell betrayal or some other sort of nonsense, but how does it feel to not belong to any culture? Eh? Enjoy your ancestors’ assimilation. ✌🏽 (hide spoiler)]

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