A cinematic, entertaining and fast-paced debut novel that is part-Ocean's Eleven, part-The Social Network and part-Crazy Rich Asians, Portrait of a Thief is an addictive mix of heist and unlikely friendships by way of the politics of colonization.
This was how things began: Boston on the cusp of fall, the Sackler Museum robbed of 23 pieces of priceless Chinese art. Even in this back room, dust catching the slant of golden, late-afternoon light, Will could hear the sirens. They sounded like a promise.
Will Chen, a Chinese American art history student at Harvard, has spent most of his life learning about the West - its art, its culture, all that it has taken and called its own. He believes art belongs with its creators, so when a Chinese corporation offers him a (highly illegal) chance to reclaim five priceless sculptures, it's surprisingly easy to say yes.
Will's crew, fellow students chosen out of his boundless optimism for their skills and loyalty, aren't exactly experienced criminals. Irene is a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything; Daneil is pre-med with steady hands and dreams of being a surgeon. Lily is an engineering student who races cars in her spare time; and Will is relying on Alex, an MIT dropout turned software engineer, to hack her way in and out of each museum they must rob.
Each student has their own complicated relationship with China and the identities they've cultivated as Chinese Americans, but one thing soon becomes certain: they won't say no.
Because if they succeed? They earn an unfathomable ten million each, and a chance to make history. If they fail, they lose everything . . . and the West wins again.