Tash Aw, Five Star Billionnaire


A number of Malaysians seek fortune in China. They all go about it in different ways, with differing definitions of fortune, success, and happiness. We follow them through a number of challenges and we see how they resolve the problems they are faced with. These characters are complex and not always likeable, but I enjoyed finding out what the future held for them.

Take Phoebe, for example.  A young uneducated woman from a small village, she is an illegal in China, using a stolen identity card. She studies self-help books and the Internet to guide her in how to act and dress to seek fortune in China, and especially to find a rich husband. She goes from dressing provocatively (“like a prostitute”) in order to catch a rich man to adopting the demeanor of a young business woman (and is henceforth ashamed of formerly having followed the wrong advice about attire). After a number of encounters with men who do not meet her criteria, she meets a young businessman in a cafe. She has with her a “good quality” counterfeit Louis Vuitton bag, which the young man disappears with when her back is turned. Her luck seems to turn when she meets Walter but there may be some surprises in store.

And don’t believe that Phoebe gets manipulated only because of her lack of education… An experienced business woman with an English university education enters into a business deal with the same Walter only to find out he siphons off the funds she has just borrowed from the bank to purchase a large derelict building they are planning to repurpose in Shanghai.

And no, it’s not only women that meet these misfortunes…

So, there is quite a lot of fun to be had following the meanders of this novel, where chapter titles read like business advice.


Aw, Tash. Five Star Billionnaire. Penguin Canada, 2013.

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