Ocean's ElevenmeetsThe FarewellinPortrait of a Thief, a lush, lyrical heist novel inspired by the true story of Chinese art vanishing from Western museums, about diaspora, the colonization of art, and the complexity of the Chinese American identity
History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.
Will Chen plans to steal them back.
A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son that has always been his parents' American Dream. But when a shadowy Chinese corporation reaches out with an impossible--and illegal--job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.
His crew is every heist archetype one can imagine--or at least, the closest he can get. A conman: Irene Chen, Will's sister and 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 student 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.
With poetic language, a fun, commercial hook, and a plot that spans the Western world, Portrait of a Thiefis both a cultural heist and an examination of the Chinese American identity, as well as a necessary critique of the lingering effects of colonialism that readers won't want to miss.
Grace D. Li grew up in Houston, Texas and is a graduate of Duke University, where she studied biology and creative writing. She currently attends medical school at Stanford University. Portrait of a Thief is her debut novel.