Five Star Billionaire

Tash Aw

Five Star Billionaire
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Five Star Billionaire

Tash Aw

In this stunning new novel, the award-winning Tash Aw charts the overlapping lives of migrant Malaysian workers, forging lives for themselves in sprawling Shanghai. Phoebe has come to China buoyed with hope, but her dreams are shattered as the job she was promised seems never to have existed. Gary is a successful pop star, but his fans disappear after a bar-room brawl. Yinghui was once a poetry-loving activist and is not sure how she became a wealthy businesswoman. Justin works hard for his powerful family, but begins to wonder if his efforts are appreciated. And then there is the Five Star Billionaire himself, pulling the strings of destiny, his lessons for success unsettling the dynamics of these disparate lives. In FIVE STAR BILLIONAIRE, Tash Aw charts the weave of their journeys in the new China, counterpointing their adventures with the old life they have left behind in Malaysia. The result is a brilliant examination of the migrations that are shaping this dazzling new city, and their effect on myriad individual lives.


In Five Star Billionaire a large cast of migrants battle to find security and happiness in a New China that is hurtling into the future. Malaysian author Tash Aw skilfully juggles the perspectives of all these loosely related characters: the heir to a property development empire, a fiercely aspirational young woman, a disgraced pop star, a lovelorn businesswoman, a smooth philanthropist and an unnamed writer of self-help books.

Aw takes a painterly and impressionistic approach to the city of Shanghai, focusing on the lights and colours of a metropolis that morphs daily in the name of progress. The relentless demolition and construction of the physical city is mirrored in the destruction and rebuilding of individual identity. The characters of Five Star Billionaire all recognise that survival requires their personal histories to be erased and replaced with something newer and shinier. Yet what grows clearer towards the end of the book is that it is very difficult for people not to let past events drive future actions, no matter how much the more superficial aspects of their lifestyles may have changed.

Following the separate threads requires concentration, but the rewards are many. Aw’s characters are isolated and deeply insecure, tethered to the past even as they try to shrug it off, but their resilience and pugnacity insure them against pity. There’s great pleasure to be had in glimpsing these varied slices of life, and Five Star Billionaire gives true insight into the forces driving modern China.

Leanne Hall is a children’s bookseller at Readings Carlton. Her novel This Is Shyness won the Text Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Writing, and her latest, The Queen of the Night, was released in 2012.

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