Book Review: Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li (who is also one of my Pitch Wars mentors!!?!?!?!), so I thought I’d write a review!

Portrait of a Thief, like its five protagonists, does an absurd number of things well: it’s an impressively researched heist book that spans three continents (and whose crew is entirely Asian-American!); an incisive commentary on colonialism, art, history, and power; a study in lush, lyrical prose; and an exploration of Chinese-American diaspora that felt, at points, as if the author had peered into my brain and given a name to a sort of liminal, silent reaching I had been struggling to put into words.

But the surprise of this story—the cutting edge, for me (though perhaps this says more about me than it does about the book)—was the characters’ sense of the world breaking open; that their whole lives lie ahead of them; that it isn’t too late to change what might be changed. Portrait of a Thief is as much about hope for the future as it is the scars of the past; as much about what we diaspora kids might ask of the world as much as what our families and communities expect of us. It’s about daring to want, when every day our lives seem to fill with more constraints—and, in imagining the impossible, makes it feel not as out of reach as it first appeared.

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