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Publisher's Summary

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize

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

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

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

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

Will Chen plans to steal them back.

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

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

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

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

©2022 Grace D. Li (P)2022 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"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)

What listeners say about Portrait of a Thief

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A miss for me, sadly!

Really wanted to like this book, but not sure if it wad the narration or the actual story. but did not gel for me. It sometimes felt like a lecture on stolen artifacts in museums, instead of an oceans 11 type story. So, it's a no from me!

3 people found this helpful

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I’d like my $14.99 back, please.

Pros: the plot seems promising and the narration was good (but I only got through Teo hours, so there’s that).
Cons: the characters are the most insufferable of any book I’ve read. The premise of the book is a group assembling to pull off an art heist. One character works at Google, another is studying to be a surgeon, etc. Basically, every character has an amazing set of circumstances that 99% of the population can only dream of having. Yet, each of them is risking it all because they “want more” or can’t handle family “expectations.” I couldn’t handle anymore of the “woe is me” attitude and found this tone-deaf considering what the average person has to deal with.

This is a big nope from me. Use your Audible credit for something better.

2 people found this helpful

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Heist is an afterthought

Five smart college kids endlessly introspect. The actual impossible job is hardly dealt with. Tiresome.

2 people found this helpful

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A fun and enlightening listen!

I really liked listening to this book. I appreciated the different character voices, the cultural histories behind each facet of the story, and I love a good heist. The characters and their intertwining stories were well developed. One criticism I do have is the writing seemed to rely a bit heavily on certain metaphors or stylistic choices. One I noticed often was “____ was all ____”, for example “her face was all cheekbones and harsh lines” or “the building was all steel and white walls”. It became distracting at points but I really enjoyed the book overall.

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Surprising climax ending

Such a page-turner that get me hooked from the beginning. The book has all the expected excitements and suspensions. Yet, there are more. The second generation of Chinese immigrants’ struggle to fit in and searching for their positions is vividly leap out of the pages. Then, there comes the climax ending, logical and a complete surprise at the same time. Brilliant.

1 person found this helpful

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Sorry but 11 wasted hours

Repetitive. No details on action. Abrupt finishing of chapters. Too much longing for a country they don’t live in. Too many wishes and reviews of possibilities. Moved at a snails pace. You can literally summarize the book in one sentence.

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  • KB
  • 08-05-22

If you’re an editor, hit Grace D. Li up for a job: she has openings

Wow, so terrible 😂 This is some of the worst drivel I have ever read. Do people not use editors anymore?

The author is a grad of Duke, now at Stanford Medical School. Navel-gazing, much?

The characters and corcumstances are 6 million % unbelievable. They’re juniors and seniors in college, and if not in college they work at Google 😂 They gave up Harvard for a full ride at Duke 😂

They reference the color and nature of the sky/the night/the city in every chapter, just like your average college student would 😂

The FBI wouldn’t really get involved in an art heist at Drottningholm in Sweden. Why? Because Sweden has its own investigative orgs and institutions. And then of course Interpol. FBI, no.

In one sentence, one character laments that they “had been so careful.” Next sentence? They had been so “careless.”

Diasporic overachiever angst. This comes across as a list of everything Grace D. Li wants to do, but never got do. Boo to NPR for recommending this title.

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Asian Avengers !!! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Boring characters, the guy's narration is awful, the lady is good on her end. I couldn't help but laugh everytime i thought about the author creating the azn justice league or whatever. Politically I'm on the left but i just had to drop the book completely when the characters were having a pow wow after their first heist and they were talking about bad things they've done; one of them said something along the lines of them all getting arrested during the blm 2020 protests. like it was just too much lololol. wanted to like the book but i ended up hating it but it still amuses me thinking about it lololol

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GOOD!

A fun time, but I felt like the narrator could have been more enthusiastic

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So much potential

This story and concept are super interesting! I love the idea of a college student heist. The author made each of the five main characters interesting and represent five different Chinese American experiences. HOWEVER, the execution was lacking. Several times I felt like I was listening to a first draft. A lot of the internal musings of the main characters were incredibly receptive and “told” me a lot that could have been “shown” to me in a more interesting way. I found myself editing the writing in my head while listening. “It had been ten years” and “after ten years” to describe the relationship between three characters got old in its repetition. I honestly hope she does a revised edition! I would read it. Also would make a great movie with some cleaned up dialogue and a medium that would force you to cut the annoying repetitive musings about being almost done with college and not knowing what comes next.