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Five Star Billionaire: A Novel Hardcover – July 2, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; First U.S Edition edition (July 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812994345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812994346
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013: In his ambitious third novel, Tash Aw draws a luminous portrait of four new, disparate arrivals to Shanghai: a venerable business woman, a pop star, a factory girl turned socialite, and an inheritor of his family real-estate, all of whose fates are tied to an elusive billionaire. But Five Star Billionaire is as much about people as it is about place: Shanghai represents the booming economic growth of China. It's a city of over 23 million people--some trying to make a name for themselves, others just trying to get by (for comparison sake, that's nearly three times as many people as New York City). By the end, Five Star Billionaire doesn't feel so foreign. The characters don't find personal fulfillment, but they're finally moving in the right direction. Aw reveals that the American Dream isn't so uniquely American as it is a byproduct of capitalism. Or perhaps it's a byproduct of the human condition: money becomes a way to quantify one's worth, to cure one's unhappiness. In such a big city, everything that matters is inward. --Kevin Nguyen

From Booklist

Phoebe secures a fake ID and a self-help manual to scale the gilded staircase of Shanghai. Ambitious businesswoman Yinghui risks a fortune on real estate with a mysterious magnate. Once wealthy Justin, whose ruined family desperately needs his financial savvy, emerges from his high-rise bunker to face an empire in shambles. And after a drunken meltdown, former teen idol Gary has been reduced to playing small-town shopping centers. Each character in this quartet has emigrated from Aw’s own native Malaysia, seduced by the neon profile of metropolitan China, unknowingly ­connected through Walter Chao, author of the eponymous Secrets of a Five Star Billionaire. Aw travels through time, spinning backstories, shifting narrative focus, and peppering the novel with selections from Chao’s guide to success. As with his previous novels, The Harmony Silk Factory (2005) and Map of the Invisible World (2010), Aw’s plot unwinds in slow, noir-like spirals, almost refusing to resolve. And like Dickensian London and Fitzgerald’s New York, Aw’s setting limns a new China flush with fresh capital and cheap labor. An urban complement to Mo Yan’s Pow! (2012). --Diego Báez

Customer Reviews

This novel has plot, characters, lots of interesting details and is a page turner.
Vintage PowerReader
This book is a great novel full of stories of the lives of some Chinese people of today giving the reader a sense of what it is like to be in Singapore today.
W. Jamison
I read about two books a week and this was depressing, too long and had a horrible ending.
Carole P.Esposito

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There's something universally appealing about becoming filthy rich. Earlier this year, Mohsin Hamid explored the topic in his book "How To Become Filthy Rich in Rising Asia." Now Tash Aw weighs in with Five Star Billionaire. Interestingly, each of these accomplished authors employ a "how to" self-help book conceit (in this case, How To Achieve Greatness, How To Manage Time and so on).

The problem -- or perhaps the point -- of this novel is, after a while, the strivers and the wannabes begin to blend together in a patina of sameness, threads in the fabric of Shanghai. Each of Tash Aw's characters is searching for success and wealth, which won't necessarily equate with happiness. Each arrives in Shanghai with an amorphous identity, looking to the city to define who he or she is. And each carries the seeds of self-destruction, with the inability to engage in deep introspection. Each, in a word, is false and often self-deceptive. As one character says, "There is not one aspect of myself that I haven't lied about."

Phoebe is a factory girl in rural Malaysia, determined to reinvent herself and make it big in Shanghai. The way to a real success for her is to accumulate the fake accoutrements that Shanghai is known for: a fake LV (read: Louis Vuitton) purse, a fake "expensive" watch, and so on. She is, for me, the most compelling of the characters and perhaps the one with the most to gain -- or lose; a woman on the make in a city on the make. In ways, she embodies Shanghai itself: "In this world, everyone is always looking for something better. Nothing they have is good enough. As soon as they achieve their goals,they want something more. Always more and more and more.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on September 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Five Star Billionaire is a novel full of a number of difficult characters--they aren't bad characters, but most have no inner life at all. They are motivated solely by money and are frankly pretty vacuous. The novel rotates around 5 characters, but it takes quite a while for the narrative to draw them all together. Because of the vacuous characters and the length of time it takes for the narrative to gel, I really did not enjoy this novel. Tash Aw writes well, there is no question about that. He may have been going for some larger, symbolic message about the evils of a money hungry society--but the message was not conveyed very adroitly.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Neal Reynolds VINE VOICE on July 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Really. There are five important human characters who actually are equally important, but it is the city of Shanghai that the book is actually focused on. We see the city from the viewpoint of the five immigrant characters, each of whom have something he or she is attempting to gain from the city. The title character is Walter Chao who has some sort of connection eventually with each of the others. He might appear to be the most important of the characters although I would argue with that. He's a somewhat shadowy character with influence over the others, but I don't see him as truly being more important.

The stories of Phoebe, Justin, Gary, and Yinhui in that order until the last few chapters in which the sequence is interrupted. Walter appears periodically as the writer of a series of articles on becoming a billionaire. Each of the five, of course, have appearances when their story intersects with another's.

The author can also be considered a personality as an omniscient observer, especially in the especially humorous chapter 7.

This is a complex novel, but easy and vastly enjoyable reading. This is the first book by the author that I've read. It's not likely to be the last. The Chinese (rather than American) structure is noticeable, but doesn't in the least detract from anyone's enjoyment of the total story.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By OutlawPoet TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ever read one of those books that is extremely well written, but you just didn't love it? For me, this was that book.

First the positives:
This is a sweeping and timely novel. The author takes us to the brittle glitter and glamour of what is arguably one of the most sophisticated cities in the world. Although I've never been to Shanghai, it's on my travel list and I feel like I know it after reading this book. Shanghai is a character unto itself here. It lives and breathes.

In addition, the author is well spoken. The book is intelligently written and the characters are complex. Rather than a beach read, the book demands you pay attention to it.

So why didn't I love it?

In spite of the timeliness of the book, it felt somewhat dated. I know that's a bit of a paradox, but it reminded me very much of the way that people used to talk about New York. All the books and movies where the small town kid would move to the big city, forget who they really were, and let the city break them. A little Valley of the Dolls meets A Chorus Line (without the lush musical numbers).

The book depressed me a little. Shanghai, with all its glitz and glamour seemed to be that city that would break you down and eat you alive. In spite of money and fame, none of the characters seemed to ever be happy or really find what they wanted or needed.

I leave this at four stars. It is a very good, well-written book. However, now I feel like I need to read something about puppies and rainbows.
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