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.
Justin is from a family of successful property developers. Phoebe has come to China buoyed with hope, but her dreams are shattered within hours as the job she has come for seems never to have existed. Gary is a successful pop artist, but his fans and marketing machine disappear after a bar-room brawl. Yinghui has businesses that are going well but must make decisions about her life. And then there is Walter, the shadowy billionaire, ruthless and manipulative, ultimately alone in the world.
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 these individual lives.
“Five Star Billionaire” by Tash Aw is an interesting look into contemporary Shanghai society, using the focal points of 5 disparate characters whose lives glance off one another in various times throughout. Each represents a different perspective on the importance of tradition, family responsibility and what it means to “make it” in the modern high-tech world of today.
· Pheobe and Gary struggle to make it in the busy, smoky metropolis: she is mired in the struggle just to survive through meager and exploitative jobs, where she is just one of thousands of young immigrating women just like her. Gary finds stardom on the wings of his angelic voice, but ultimately streaks broken and torn to the ground -- a victim of sensational tabloid journalism.
· Yinghui and Justin are the quintessential “yuppies”, breaking somewhat free of their traditional family expectations, but find themselves lonely and floundering in the quest for corporate success.
· Walter Chao -- the “Billionaire” – is an enigma who seems to provides a quasi-narrator voice, with its deeper introspective understanding of why he does what he does and what the whole struggle to make your mark is all about.
But, as in all good stories, there is a twist to “Five Star Billionaire”, a sad let-down that still manages to be a little surprising, even as it seems inevitable. The theme of impermanence and the illusion of creating an “acceptable” identity for yourself – of “being someone whose story is entirely believable and yet entirely untrue” -- is ultimately eclipsed by a simple and enduring hope, leaving the shining realization that there is nothing wrong with being who you truly are.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Malaika