"I suppose I did it because I wanted something to show for the thirty years—longer than I had lived in my homeland—that I had been here in America. Something that was properly appreciated, even if someone else got all the credit."
That's how the book starts and that's what the book references back to at the end. In a sort of loop, "The Art of Confidence" is one of those treasures of literature that allow us to see the hidden thread of connection from start to finish.
What I love about this book is that it follows the perspectives of different characters and viscerally shows how what you see at first sight is not what is actually beneath the surface. Throughout the story, each chapter switches to a new character. We follow the stories of Liu Qingwu, a middle-aged artist who has lived in America for 30 years and barely scrapes by with a teaching job and by being a street artist. Caroline is the owner of a gallery who finds interest in his work. Molly is Caroline's assistant and a college student with quite a history. And finally, Harold Yu, a Taiwanese businessman who seems to be living the ultimately perfect life.
Spoilers ahead. This includes plot twist as well. Please don't read ahead if you haven't read the book and you are interested in reading about it.
As we know, in reality, Caroline's business is falling apart due to financial disability. Liu is barely making enough money for him and his wife. Molly has been suspended from college and chose to quit for nearly a year because she assisted her friend in a plagiarizing scandal despite being a stellar student herself. And Harold Yu, who despite having a beautiful wife, intelligent and active son, and a successful business, loses all of that when his wife unabashedly has an affair with his friend who takes Yu off his job and away from his family.
In this whirlpool of misfortune and troubling realizations, the readers are able to learn deeply troubling secrets within Caroline's history and what prompts her to ask Liu Qingwu for a forgery that she eventually sells to Harold Yu. In the end, after all the anxiety and fear, Caroline learns that she can no longer physically protect the gallery due to its inevitable reconstruction. The effort in making the forgery was for nothing and Qingwu ends up going back to China (perhaps forever) after he learns about his runaway wife's disease. Harold Yu loses his job and family and reconciles with the woman he hated the most for loving his father while his mother was in the hospital.
Throughout the woven intersection of different stories, comes the tragedy and extent of human effort to create art through any means as well as possessing it.
I really enjoyed this book mainly because it shows the hard work behind a seemingly lavish environment of art. Rather than put on the superfluously august display of what the art world was like, it shows how twisted and tragic the hierarchy of the art world takes on people, especially immigrants and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. At the same time, it shows the powerful effect art has on transforming lives as well as giving meaning to people who have lost hope in their purpose and goals.