Book Review: Five Star Billionaire

Every so often I come across a book so good that I have author envy and, these holidays, I wished I'd written Five Star Billionaire  by Tash Aw. 


Set in crazy-busy, dog-eat-dog Shanghai, the book follows five different characters as they try to replace their old lives with new directions; happiness, security, success and some kind of integrity as people.

Like the author, all the characters are originally from Malaysia; the wealthier ones educated at universities in western countries in the early 1990s. I particularly enjoyed reading these bits because I could see echoes of the Malaysian and East Asian students I studied with at uni in them.  

I love stories where different people intersect and influence each other, their stories interweaving. Phoebe, Gary and the others are well-drawn and three dimensional, each so tragic in their own way. The writing is great, the setting is vivid and the characters are believable.

As well, every so often, there was a gorgeous little observational nugget, a paragraph that just spoke to me. Here's one, told by Walter Chao, a character who is quietly looking for revenge for the humiliation of his father at the hands of a big business family years ago, and take note, this is EXACTLY how I think of the concept of time:

"You must appreciate that time is always against you. It is never kind or encouraging. It gnaws away invisibly at all good things. Therefore, if you have any desire to accomplish anything, even the simplest task, do it swiftly and with great purpose, or time will drag it away from you."

This book is a must-read. It's clever, well-written, thoughtful and insightful. It's also equally sad, happy, tragic and hopeful, which any good story should be if it possibly can. I definitely recommend it.