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Portrait of a thief : a novel
2022
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Library Journal Review
Li's debut, a literary heist novel involving looted Chinese art, will undoubtedly be compared to Crazy Rich Asians, as both novels play with genre in order to explore the difficulty of juggling multiple cultural identities, and specifically, what it means to be Chinese American. Another strong central theme is the ethics of modern museums displaying stolen art. The novel alternates between frantic heist sequences and slower, but still gripping, character moments. The audiobook, narrated by Eunice Wong and Austin Ku, splits the point-of-view characters by gender, which mostly works, though it sometimes makes the chapters run together if a narrator reads several in a row. Further, since the characters frequently interact with each other, listeners will have to learn two sets of voices for the character. Still, both narrators are a pleasure to listen to, bringing each character's struggles to life. Their performance is vital to keeping the introspective parts of the story as interesting as the heist sections. VERDICT Listeners may finish this book feeling as if they've learned plenty, but so palatably wrapped in cleverly delicious plotting.--Matthew Galloway
Publishers Weekly Review
Li debuts with an intriguing if uneven twist on the heist genre. Harvard art history student Will Chen witnesses a brazen smash-and-grab at his school's museum; the thieves make off with objects that were themselves stolen from China centuries before. In the chaos, Will pockets a jade figure. One of the thieves spies his move, calling it a "nice lift," and slips him the business card of a Chinese business mogul, Wang Yuling, who later recruits Will into the world of art theft. Will soon assembles a group of Chinese Americans in their early 20s, including his younger sister, Irene; and Daniel Liang, who grew up in Beijing and comes primed with knowledge gleaned from his art thief--busting father, who works for the FBI. The inexperienced team agrees to steal five Chinese zodiac fountainhead pieces in exchange for $50 million from Yuling. The first heist, in Sweden, is a success, but during the second theft in France, competition arises when another gang gets to the target first. Li smartly focuses on the bonds created in the group over their shared Chinese roots, though occasionally floundering prose ("The night was dark as an oil spill") tends to pockmark the page. Like a popcorn movie, this is best enjoyed with a hearty suspension of disbelief. Agent: Hannah Fergesen, KT Literary. (Apr.)
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