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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 21 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 17 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
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 Sept. 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 Sept. 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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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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5.0 out of 5 stars A Beguiling Fictional Portrait of Modern Shanghai, 21 April 2014
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Hardcover)
Chinese-British writer Tash Aw’s “Five Star Billionaire” is really more a fascinating fictional portrait of modern Shanghai replete with all of its contradictions - a thriving megalopolis which yearns to hold onto its Chinese and Western European past, as it becomes a dynamic economic and cultural beacon of hope and success to countless scores of people across the globe – than it is a novel focused solely on a few protagonists. Here Aw renders Shanghai as both the stage and the key character in his vast, sprawling, novel that introduces us to four different people whose fates become intertwined and, indeed, orchestrated by the shadowy figure of Walter Chao, the “Five Star Billionaire” himself. Aw’s exuberantly descriptive prose and superb storytelling skills offer readers a beguiling fictional portrait of Shanghai as seen through the eyes of each of the five main characters. We are introduced immediately to Phoebe, who arrives in Shanghai with the promise of a factory job, but discovers that the job doesn’t exist, and must survive with her wits intact long enough to attract the attention of Chao himself. Gary is an up and coming pop star who has enjoyed some success, having fled the country for the dazzling lights of Shanghai, but finds his life spiraling out of control as his success begins to ebb. Justin has inherited the reins of his family’s vast real estate empire in Shanghai, but he is torn between adhering to his family wishes and gaining the love and trust of someone whom he has had a crush on for years, Yinghui, a former leftist activist, turned successful businesswoman, who is passionate about preserving Shanghai’s Western European past, even as she contemplates major financial deals with the likes of Walter Chao. Aw may be one of the best literary stylists writing now in the English language as well as a fine storyteller who manages to make readers care deeply about each of the five protagonists in “Five Star Billionaire”; I look forward to reading his earlier novels, “The Harmony Silk Factory” and “Map of the Invisible World”, even as I wonder what else he may write that could match the breathtaking scope of his latest.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Star Billionaire, 6 Aug. 2013
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 10 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Paperback)
This exceptional and thought provoking novel intertwines the stories of five Malay emigrants to Shanghai, with all their different stories and experiences. There is Phoebe Chen Aiping, a recently arrived country girl longing to 'better' herself with a fulfilling job and, hopefully, a rich man. From a poor and remote region she relies on self-help manuals for advice about how to fit in and become upwardly mobile. Justin CK Lim is heir to LKH Holdings, a family insurance firm and a successful property developer. From 'old money' he feels trapped by the needs of his family and their reliance upon him. Then there is Gary, a singer who found success through a talent competition, but who begins to hate his fans as both his career and life spiral out of control. Yingui is a successful businesswoman, whose friends see only the fact that she is thirty seven and single. Lastly, there is the "Five Star Billionaire" himself, whose words of wisdom to help his readers become a success, intersperse the story.

The five characters lives unfold before us, with their tragedies and triumphs, as their stories begin to intersect. This exhilarating novel gives a real sense of how alone people can be in a large city and about the true meaning of success; it is about ambition, aspirations and the global world we live in, with people constantly reinventing their lives. Longlisted for the Booker prize, whether it is shortlisted or not, it is certainly already a literary triumph.
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars Another work of beautiful writing from Tash Aw, 17 July 2013
By 
Sala (Hong Kong) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Hardcover)
Tash Aw has produced another beautifully written work of fiction. His prose is as mellifluous as a dripping honey. I struggled with the characters - I still prefer to at least like one of the characters I am reading about but he has painted these people with honesty and without reservation. I know these people. I have lived in HK for over twenty years and Tash Aw has painted many of the people who live and work in this area fearlessly. I may not like them, but if you are looking for an insight into modern Asia then this would be an excellent start to understand the modern Chinese dynamic of some people.
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