Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li

All I needed to know about Li’s book before deciding I absolutely had to read it, was that it was a heist novel centred on Chinese diaspora stealing back looted Chinese art from Western museums. I doubt anyone needs much more than that to get them intrigued, but this book truly surprised me. Some readers may feel that the writing requires a generous suspension of disbelief, but others will find themselves in its pages, and perhaps, like it did to me, this will mean the world.

When it comes down to it, Portrait of a Thief feels like a love letter to the Chinese diaspora experience. It’s a story about dreams and the weight of expectation on first and second-generation immigrants. It’s a story about identity, about finding it, losing it and not knowing it. This book showed me, concretely, that there is a real place for diaspora and their experiences in books, that people like me have a place in the industry. And for that, my gratitude for this story and this author knows no bounds.

This review was originally published via our online What We’re Reading column.


Tracy Hwang is a bookseller at Readings Emporium.

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Portrait of a Thief

Portrait of a Thief

Grace D. Li

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