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Five Star Billionaire Hardcover – 28 Feb 2013

3.8 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (28 Feb. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007494157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007494156
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 410,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘Aw's tale of five migrant workers carving out lives in a modernising Shanghai is the stuff of a hit TV miniseries … the reading experience it offers is coolly engrossing’ Adam Mars-Jones, Observer

‘A brilliant, sprawling, layered and unsentimental portrayal of contemporary China’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

'A fascinating cast of characters … a panoramic, expertly detailed painting of contemporary Shanghai' Sunday Times

‘“Five Star Billionaire” opens with a bang, not a whimper … Aw is a master storyteller and “Five Star Billionaire” can be read as “The Way We Live Now” for our times’ Aminatta Forna, Guardian

‘[Aw] is unmatched at evoking the smells and sounds of the land and cityscapes, the figures of speech and shifting cultural mores of that finger-like peninsula that pokes into the South China Sea …Their tales are told chapter by chapter, the characters slowly drawing closer together like flotsam in a vortex, before the stunning finale …There is wit here, and plenty of acute observation and characterisation’ Independent on Sunday

‘A new kind of immigrant novel. One that takes place in our increasingly mutlipolar world and is …a challenge to the old narrative’ Sunday Telegraph

‘The five characters are distinct, and Aw manages to bring them together well … Aw brilliantly recreates the intonations and vocabulary of someone educated only in Chinese’ Independent

‘Highly topical, sharply observed but affecting portmanteau novel’ Independent, ‘Books of the Year’

‘A splendid achievement. The narrative … is brilliantly designed, a puzzle whose pieces click satisfyingly into place – Aw’s book could scarcely be bettered’ Independent on Sunday

‘Aw’s style – terse but tender, lightly ironic without being snide – is fresh, bracing and, above all, compassionate. His characters … form profound impressions on the reader. One simply cares deeply what happens to them, and this skilled writer never makes that an easy matter to predict’ Scotsman

About the Author

Tash Aw was born in Taipei, in the Republic of China, and
brought up in Malaysia. He moved to England in his teens and
now lives in London. He is the author of ‘The Harmony Silk Factory’, which was the winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Novel and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and ‘Map of the Invisible World’. His most recent novel, ‘Five Star Billionaire’, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 Sept. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
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?
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Format: 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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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.
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I read mixed reviews abut this so to find I enjoyed it was a pleasant surprise. The story follows a number of protagonists making their way in the hustle and bustle of Shanghai with varying degrees (and interpretations) of what success means. They cross paths or graze up against each other all the way through and while it was difficult to see where things might end, I liked it that way. You could say that I'm definitely on the more positive end of the Five Star reviews spectrum and I'd recommend giving this one a go.
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