College Students Plan Chinese Art Heists and Search for their Identities in Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li

Portrait of a Thief

My Review:

I couldn’t help but get caught up in this action packed story of a well intentioned art heist to steal back the Chinese sculptures once taken from Beijing years ago! Author Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief introduces us to an ambitious group of Chinese college students who are searching for their identity and place in the world. Will, an art history major at Harvard is sought out and given a chance to participate in the repatriation of specific Chinese art pieces and he cannot resist. He recruits his sister, Irene, a fast talker, her roommate Lily, a skilled race driver, his friend Daniel, an experienced thief, and an old girlfriend, Alex, a computer hacker. All have personal reasons why they are willing to participate in this dangerous task and risk their freedom for the art belonging to their home country. Each has their specific “job” to do to carry out the risky robberies as a team, and the group makes plans to commit multiple heists at various museums throughout the world.

Through her storytelling, Grace D. Li gives an overview of Chinese art and history as her characters dig deep to understand who they are, who they want to be and their feelings on the Chinese diaspora, while they participate in this illegal plan to return the Chinese sculptures to their country of origin. The students’ backstories and their sense of “home”, being Chinese outside of China, are the most interesting parts of the book, but the heists keep the story moving forward at a heart pounding pace. I found Portrait of a Thief to be a great coming of age story – informative and entertaining!

Grace D. Li

About the Author:

Grace D. Li grew up in Pearland, Texas, and is a graduate of Duke University, where she studied biology and creative writing. She currently attends medical school at Stanford University. Her debut novel, Portrait of a Thief was an instant New York Times bestseller and is also in development at Netflix.

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