Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li

Book Review #623

Title: Portraits of a Thief

Author: Grace D. Li

Publisher: Tiny Reparation Books

Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Format: Paperback

Source: Times Reads

Publication Date: April 5, 2022

Pages: 384

My Rating: 5 STARS


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.

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.


Portraits of a Thief by Grace D. Li is such an exciting and commendable book as five individuals are brought together to do the impossible—five heists across the globe to steal back invaluable Chinese sculptures. This book is not just about the heists, colonialism and art history but it is also about friendship and the feel of belonging.

This book is just mind blowing, to say the least. I had no idea what to expect and what awaits me throughout the pages. The heists are very different with one another—some very exciting and nerve wrecking while some went smooth sailing. But they all left me at the edge of my seat, as I read along the story just waiting to be wowed. And it did. Amazingly.

This book is so lyrical and so beautifully written. I am in awe by the author’s writing style that it has captivated me from the beginning until the very end. I don’t think there was even a moment where I didn’t want to devour this book. And to be paired with such a captivating storyline, well best believe I will be talking about this book for a long long time.

I didn’t know how many heists they would manage, considering they could get caught or things just don’t work out at the end. But despite it all, I absolutely had no inkling of how the story would turn out to be. The part that made me speechless was for the last heist and how things just worked out well for the characters. Definitely one I never saw coming, it was just truly smart and praise worthy. You just need to read the book to experience for yourself.

I really adore this book. Every single thing about it from the characters and how everyone slip into their respective roles during the preparation and the heist itself, the writing, the message the author is hoping to put across, the plot and especially the twists. I highly recommend this book to everyone to read because this book is just a delight and is one of my favourite reads of the year.



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