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REVIEW: Portrait of a Thief

Thank you to Tiny Reparation Books, Penguin Random House, and NetGalley for an electronic copy of this book to read in advance in exchange for an honest review. This book will release on April 5th!


A hand holds a Kindle displaying PORTRAIT OF A THIEF in front of a tan colored wall

Will Chen has been hired to steal art that originated from the Old Summer Palace in China. And with ten million dollars on the line he immediately says yes. He sets about recruiting the best conwoman, thief, getaway driver, and hacker he knows from his family and friends. Yet all of them are novices, and they have a lot to learn about theft and themselves as they set out to stage the biggest heist of the century.

Grace Li's debut novel, PORTRAIT OF A THIEF, is an interesting and compelling look at art history and how theft interacts in that world. I was definitely drawn to the art heist part of the story as Oceans Eleven is one of my favorite movies. Yet I found it hard to suspend my disbelief about some of the details surrounding how they planned and communicated during the heist. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say it wasn't as secure as I would think a band of thieves would need it to be....


I did find myself drawn to the interplay between the characters. Honestly, this aspect is what kept me engaged in this novel. Grace Li's writing really shines in the five points of view where each chapter advances the plot through another perspective. I loved this aspect of the book. Sometimes these types of books get bogged down with too much detail or chapters that are too long, but I felt this one married these two things so well. I especially liked how short the chapters were.

While the plot involves art theft, the heartbeat of the novel is really about the idea of belonging. Each of the five characters are searching for their place in the world, and Li specifically addresses the feelings of diaspora between being Chinese and American. In some way or another, each character felt like they did not fit in either world, and yet belonged in both. I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to people who want to experience the thoughts and emotions of another person in a tangible way.


3/5 Stars

Content Warnings: diaspora, colonialism


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