Art of the steal: 3 new novels in which Asian 'model minorities' break the rules

(From left) Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen, Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li and Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto. PHOTOS: WILLIAM MORROW,TINY REPARATIONS BOOKS,BERKLEY

SINGAPORE - The Sunday Times looks at three new novels about Asians in diaspora who know the rules and how to break them - from a Stanford University alumna entangled in a counterfeit handbag scheme, to five young Chinese Americans who plot a daring heist.

Challenging the 'model minority' myth

In the United States, Asian Americans are often seen as the "model minority": hardworking, highly educated and law-abiding.

It is a label that reduces a group of 20 million people to a handful of stereotypes.

San Francisco-based Singaporean author Kirstin Chen, 41, says: "People paint Asian America as a monolith, but underneath, there is so much complexity."

The idea of the model minority lies at the heart of her third novel, Counterfeit, where two women - Ava, who is Chinese American, and Winnie, who is from mainland China - team up to grow a counterfeit handbag scheme into a global operation.

All her life, Ava Wong has played by the rules. She has a Stanford University law degree, a successful surgeon for a husband, and an adorable two-year-old son.

But beneath this facade, Ava is a mess. Her marriage is crumbling. The child she gave up her high-flying career for is driving her crazy.

When her old college roommate Winnie Fang waltzes back into her life after 20 years with a Birkin handbag on her arm and a lucrative - if less than legal - proposition, Ava is primed to take the bait.


Pulling off a post-colonial art heist

In 1860, British and French invading forces burned down the Old Summer Palace of Beijing and looted its treasures. Scattered across the Western world, many have yet to make it home.

American debut author Grace D. Li carries out a fictional repatriation in this crime novel with a conscience, blending post-colonialist principles with heist hijinks.

When Harvard University art history student Will Chen, 21, witnesses a bold theft of Chinese art from a Boston museum, one of the thieves leaves him a note.

It leads him to a cryptic Chinese corporation and the offer of a lifetime: US$50 million (S$70.3 million) to steal five looted Summer Palace sculptures from museums across Europe and America and restore them to China.


Marriage, mafia and meddlesome aunties

A destination wedding, the mafia and four loud, loving, meddlesome and trigger-happy Chinese-Indonesian aunties.

As if planning the perfect wedding was not stressful enough, Indonesian author Jesse Q. Sutanto throws in organised crime, blackmail and the threat of death for her second book in the Aunties series.

Meddy Chan's wedding to her college sweetheart Nathan at Christ Church College in Oxford University seems to be going swimmingly - until she realises that her wedding vendors are a mafia family who plan to kill a target on the day of her nuptials.


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