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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Malaise and Malays in Shanghai.
Phoebe is a fiercely ambitious and highly focused young woman. Gary is a pop star phenomenon whose bubble has burst. Justin is the scion of a powerful property-owning family. Yinghui was once a young idealist now a successful capitalist but a lonely woman. The interwoven stories of these four Malaysians who have come to Shanghai to seek their fortune are linked to one...
Published 20 months ago by Sue Kichenside

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The weakest of Tash's three novels
Tash Aw's novels should be so good; he has a great ear for a title; his locations are to die for and his stories are brimming with ideas. But his previous two novels, although entertaining enough at the time, have left not the slightest trace of a memory on this reader's mind. Five Star Billionaire seems to be more of the same.

The novel stars five people (do...
Published 15 months ago by MisterHobgoblin


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Malaise and Malays in Shanghai., 11 April 2013
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Hardcover)
Phoebe is a fiercely ambitious and highly focused young woman. Gary is a pop star phenomenon whose bubble has burst. Justin is the scion of a powerful property-owning family. Yinghui was once a young idealist now a successful capitalist but a lonely woman. The interwoven stories of these four Malaysians who have come to Shanghai to seek their fortune are linked to one first-person narrative voice: that of enigmatic entrepreneur Walter Chao. Is he the five star billionaire?

Shanghai represents the speed with which the new China is changing and the city is portrayed as ruthless: "stand still for a moment and the river rushes past you". Phoebe depends on self-help books to realise her ambitions yet she, like the city, still tussles with age-old customs. "You must overturn all your old beliefs in order to succeed in life". Like so many of Shanghai's migrant workers, she leads "a floating life" and says, "We all have to do things that sully us while we wait for our real lives to happen."

Tash Aw was born in China, brought up in Malaysia and came to London in his teens. He knows all aspects of the turf and language. His prose is fluid, his paragraphs sustained and he summons up "the fast-forward glitter of Shanghai" convincingly. Certain aspects of his five key characters are contradictory and occasionally puzzling yet nevertheless the narrative compels you forward to a satisfying if guessable conclusion.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 17 May 2013
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This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Hardcover)
"Five Star Billionaire" by Tash Aw is a beautiful book, focusing on several characters whose lives are partially interlocked.
The title comes from a book in Phoebe's journal, a poor but hopeful waitress in Shanghai who dreams of a better life. Several narratives tell the story of Phoebe, her flatmate, friends and employers, it tells the story of a country boy who shoots to singing stardom, about business men and business women and their various degrees of happiness or lack thereof.
In a very clever and often subtle way Aw manages to contrast the dreams of stardom and wealth against the emptiness and unhappiness of those who have. But far from being a repetitive and limiting moral tale that tells us to stick to what we got, Aw uses more complex plots and characters.
The chapter titles sound like the motto's and slogans from a self help guide.
I fell in love with the characters and wanted to know their fortunes, Aw really put in lots of material for more than just one novel.
Internet dating, secret habits of the famous and what makes a human really great, those are just a few of the subjects the book covers.
Mainly focusing on Malay immigrants the themes are however not limited to just their dreams and aspirations, I think we all share in those hopes and false ideas of happiness at one stage in our life.
I loved how the stories continues throughout the book. I am a big fan of Aw's previous work and requested to read this book through a reviewers site, but I am truly inspired by the quality and maturity of an already well established and proven writer.
Absolutely recommended.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The weakest of Tash's three novels, 2 Sep 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Tash Aw's novels should be so good; he has a great ear for a title; his locations are to die for and his stories are brimming with ideas. But his previous two novels, although entertaining enough at the time, have left not the slightest trace of a memory on this reader's mind. Five Star Billionaire seems to be more of the same.

The novel stars five people (do you see what Tash did there?) who all hope of becoming billionaires. They are all outsiders from Malaysia (though Gary the disenchanted rock star might also have connections with Taiwan) and have all pitched up in Shangai. Their pasts, presents and futures all seem intertwined in degrees of coincidence that would make Dickens blush.

The characters, and there are actually more than five of them, fall into three groups: the men, the women, and Gary. The men: Walter Chau, Justin, the Lims and others all seem much of a muchness. They want to get rich through property deals but have a sensitive side if you look. The women, too, are interchangeable with Phoebe, Yinghui and Yanyan seem to want to make money in the field of make-up, massage, lingerie and dating. You have to keep wide awake to remember which one is which because they sound the same, behave the same and think the same. Only Gary, the rock star who has run away from his management company and is holed up in a darkened flat looking at intimate internet sites offers any relief from the monotony.

As for the settings - the novel bounces from Shanghai to Kota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur. Yet these wonderful cities with their mix of sounds and smells could be anywhere. Where are the images of eaves full of chirping birds and loudspeakers broadcasting the call to prayer in the deeply Islamic city of Kota Bharu? Where are the hoons driving around the town all night hooting their horns, perfectly sober in this dry city? And in Shanghai, where are the bicycle bells, the rows of ancient shops and cottages dwarfed by new developments, the fake pavilions outside the walls of the Yuyuan gardens? It is a criminal waste of locations to let them slip through unnoticed. Were this a first novel, you might say that the creation of a place is a skill still to be learned, but in a third consecutive novel it looks like a real weakness.

So, if the characters are a bit samey and the setting seems a bit bland, what of the story? Sadly, that too is a bit of a fizzler. The various story lines sort of come together at the end and there is supposed to be a bit of an explanation, a bit of a backstory that explains it all. The trouble is, it doesn't. The way the five stars behave towards one another makes no sense. There is no consistency over time and the backstory, when you analyse it, makes no sense.

Five Star Billionaire had its moments; it did create the occasional moment of suspense (invariably left hanging for too long), it did have some witty turns of phrase. For the most part, the novel was not actually boring and sometimes was quite entertaining. But overall, it was not enough. This is the weakest of Tash's three novels, and he seems to be in a bit of a downward spiral.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing characters, depressing view on Shanghai, couldn't wait to finish, 18 Sep 2014
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Set in current day Shanghai, this novels tells the story of five migrant workers and how they struggle and sometimes succeed in the cut-throat business arena. All these lives inter-twine or slip past and diverge as the novel goes on.

Phoebe, a girl determined to find a rich husband or boyfriend or at least someone who will buy her the latest designer handbag. She'll stop at nothing to get what she wants including lying and theft.

Justin, property magnet, his family have built a successful business which he inherited until it all goes wrong and he struggles to leave his rented flat. How will he re-build his life when so many people are gloating over his failure?

Gary, a superstar singer who won a talent competition and never looked back. When it all comes crashing down he turns to the internet to find a soul-mate and tries to re-build his life.

Yinghui, a successful business woman who has overcome tragedy to become her own woman, answerable to no one. But at what price?

Walter, a billionaire entrepreneur who writes self-help books to inspire the next generation. He wants to give something back to the community, money no object, will it succeed?

I liked the premise of this book, taking very different characters who seem to have nothing in common and then see how they find or walk past each other in life. My favourite character was Phoebe, she knew what she wanted, tried to get it and then found another path, ok she was a lying, cheating scumbag but at least she was honest with herself. The other characters, I could take or leave, they mostly annoyed me.

So that was what I liked about this book (not much), now onto what I didn't like.

The picture this story paints of Shanghai is not complimentary, everyone is cheating everyone else, pretending to be someone they're not, stabbing each other in the back and only interested in their own success. I hope the real Shanghai isn't like that.

The start of this novel is so confusing, each character has their own chapter (which are reasonably long) so by the time you've read five chapters, you're back to character one who you have totally forgotten and think they're a new character. I resorted to writing down the character's names for each chapter until I saw a pattern. I don't like to have to keep notes in order to follow a storyline.

I found the ending quite predictable, I really didn't care what happened to the characters, so was quite glad to finish, not a good sign.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five Star Billionaire, 28 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Paperback)
This is a sprawling novel, set primarily in Shanghai. Very well structured, good technical aspects. Strong characters who interact with each other.
A memorable teen pop star who is dysfunctional. Lots of writing around use of internet. Characters that amuse or are tragic.
Asian values satirised. Vivid dialogue and excellent Chinese symbols. That head each chapter.
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3.0 out of 5 stars This is a lovely book., 15 Aug 2014
This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Paperback)
I'm always a bit wary of books with a huge collection of characters because there's a risk that the plot is slowed down while each gets paid attention to, and if you don't care about them it can be kind of dull. But this works really well. There are little links between the characters in ways that are very modern- connection on a dating site, listening to them singing through the floors of a block of flats. It really pulls the story together and I got so caught up in certain storylines I was skipping ahead to read the next bit, something I have had the restraint to stop myself doing with books since I was a kid! It's a very careful look at Asia too- it is both true to the problems of society there, and makes it a very real place where individuals live and can be happy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Travesty this didn't make the Booker shortlist, 28 Sep 2013
By 
K. J. Noyes "Katy Noyes" (Derbyshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Long-listed for the Man Booker, the story sounded readable. A lot this year didn't. Not having tried this author before I was dubious when seeing the length but very quickly began to enjoy the multiple-plots of the five stories meeting in Shanghai.

Despite the foreign setting, nothing about the writing or context made me feel alienated or out of my depth. The stories of country girl heading to the big city, former billionaire son and pop stars losing their fortune/celebrity, hardworking businesswoman finding her way, and the Five Star Billionaire of the title and how they all connect, was all well-written, engrossing and fascinating.

I really wish this had made the Booker shortlist and the closer I got to the ending and saw Aw's clever knotting of the stories together made me rethink the whole of the book and how the characters all connected. Very clever.

Great book, worthy of winning awards. And very readable. Don't be put off by the setting or the award tag. Good payoff.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars for Tash Aw!, 29 Mar 2013
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Fascinating and beautifully written, like his two previous novels. Superbly well researched and giving a rare insight into the lives, aspirations and massive challenges facing Malasian Chinese immigrants seeking fame and fortune in the buzzing world that is Shanghai. For me, Aw is the master of this genre, being perhaps one of the few authors who can write with such authority on this subject, drawing on much personal experience of living in different societies. He holds back nothing in showing how hard it is for his characters in an unforgiving new environment, but where the influence of the past can never be truly shaken off. While avoiding sentimentality, he treats his characters with empathy and compassion. A brilliant and rewarding read!
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3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating portrait of Shanghai from the inside, 13 July 2014
By 
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Paperback)
Tash Aw’s previous book ‘Map of the Invisible World’, published in 2009, was set in a Japanese garden designed to maximise peace and tranquility. The setting for this one could hardly be more different.

The novel tells the stories of four Malaysians who have come to Shanghai: Phoebe, an ambitious village girl who pretends to be Chinese and is determined to start a new life; Gary, a "Taiwanese" pop star who has lost his young audience and is trying desperately to regain his popularity; Yinghui, a successful businesswoman who is told by her friends that her life is incomplete without a man and Justin, adopted into a formerly wealthy family who have now lost everything. There is also Walter Chao, author of a self-help manual ‘Five Star Billionaire’, who periodically addresses the reader. However, it is really the dynamic and pulsating city of Shanghai that stands at the centre of Aw’s book.

Initially, the links between the main characters are oblique: Phoebe having a poster of Gary on her wall, Walter discussing a business opportunity with Yinghui but, as the book proceeds, the reader feels that they are connected by greater bonds. Interspersed with the stories of the four characters, we find sections from Walter’s self-help book, such as ‘How To Achieve Greatness’, ‘How To Invest Wisely - A Case Study In Property Management’ and ‘How To Hang On To Your Dreams – Property Management Case Study, Continued’. One of Walter’s thoughts is ‘In the business of life, every tiny episode is a test, every human encounter a lesson’. For some readers, these might help stitch the personal narratives together and, with luck, might set the reader on the road to the first billion. However, eventually these asides can be seen to have a much greater significance.

Aw is a very good writer but this is a long book and, perhaps because of the topic, I found it very difficult to empathise with any of the characters who each seem to be sleepwalking through the novel – perhaps this is the Eastern lack of free will? Each character pursues an individual path in establishing his/her relationship with the metropolis.

The story does, eventually, speed up but, for me, the main interest in this book was its setting in Shanghai. Aw offers a compelling impression from the inside, well away from well-beaten tourist sites, rather than the external perspective of a foreign traveller. The book is very topical, of course, but I really want more from a novel. It is also very bitty which, alongside my difficulty with the characters, introduced a barrier between me and the narrative. A final difficulty was the rather confusing shifts in time, which ultimately led to my having a greater interest in what had happened in the past rather than in the present.

Something of a disappointment then. However, Aw's previous books were sufficiently interesting to make me want to read his next one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars interesting, 25 Jun 2014
By 
M. Rochford - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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I liked this book very much interesting story about the different characters ....I went on to but two more books from this author so impressed I was with this book
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Five Star Billionaire
Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw (Hardcover - 28 Feb 2013)
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