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on 17 December 2014
The weaving together of many lives in one city. Gentle and thoughtful.
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on 3 April 2017
Excellent supplier, prompt delivery, recommended
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 April 2013
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 July 2014
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 February 2014
This novel didn't really work for me. I thought that the basic premise was clever, and I found the early chapters appealing, but that initial appeal palled fairly quickly.

The story takes the form of five narratives relating the experiences of separate Malaysian émigrés who have relocated to Shanghai. These five include:
· a young woman struggling to make a life in the big city who thinks that her greatest chance for advancement lies in finding a wealthy man,;
· a member of an immensely rich family which has made its wealth through selling insurance and is now looking to cash in on the property boom in Shanghai as it becomes increasingly westernised;
· a successful pop star in his early twenties who, after having a meteoric career seems to have fallen foul of the tabloid papers that had previously eulogised his every act;
· a successful businesswoman who has created an extensive commercial empire but worries that she has sacrificed her private life; and
· a personal development guru who has developed a life plan that can make the most unlikely candidate become a billionaire.

Unfortunately, as the novel progresses each of these characters seemed to become more rather than less two-dimensional, and the plot simply seemed too contrived to be rally plausible.
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on 16 January 2014
"Five Star Billionaire" tells the intertwined stories of four Malaysians trying, with varying degrees of success, to make money in their adopted city of Shanghai. Gary is a young popstar overwhelmed by fame, Justin a property developer in the midst of a nervous breakdown, Phoebe a village girl looking for a rich man to marry, and Yinghui a successful entrepreneur. And then there is a fifth character: the five star billionaire, an opaque man who interrupts the narrative with his own get-rich-quick advice.

Shanghai holds 'its promises just out of reach, waiting to see how far you were willing to go to get what you wanted, how long you were willing to wait' and the soul-crushing nature of a big anonymous city, especially for an immigrant, is well drawn. Despite the characters' flaws you are willing them to succeed, or at least find some happiness, and Aw gives us just enough tenderness alongside the greed and loneliness.

[I was given a free download of this book by the publishers for review.]
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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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 September 2013
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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on 18 August 2013
This is a complex novel interweaving the lives of 5 Malaysian immigrants to Shanghai. Some are from a wealthy powerful background and others have struggled through poverty but all have experienced or do experience betrayals and losses .The pressures of social media , materialism and the profit motive all conspire to sabotage their lives and bitterness and the desire for revenge are strong drivers of the plot and the interactions between the characters.
Justin was betrayed by his uncle in his efforts to be less profit driven
Yunhui was betrayed by her lover
Gary was betrayed by his absent father and the media
Phoebe loses her chance for happiness by her loss of ability to trust .
Walter is angry about the betrayal of his father .
To say any more would give too much away.
A disturbing ,thought provoking, unputdownable book.
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on 21 April 2014
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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