Tag Archives: Tash Aw

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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Friday Night Ramblings: Little reading done this week, but lots of stuff in progress


Thanks to a nasty stomach virus, I was in bed for about 36 hours and got very little reading done this week. Back to restructuring my reading time and get things back into gear… My imagination is lacking stimulation just about now.

I did have a good time reading a short story by Tash Aw, a young novelist from Malaysia currently living in London. The short story, “Tiger”, was sent to me for free by Kobo after I bought and downloaded a bunch of books, as a gift to a good customer. It tells the story of an older widow, long overprotected by a doting husband, who travels from Malaysia to India. She has some goals in mind for the trip, but an early bout of food poisoning forces the cancellation of excursions, one of which focused on seeing tigers in the wild. In order to get out of Bombay, she elects to visit a hill resort two hours away from the city. During her stay, she discovers the surroundings by talking long walks. One night, the return home is much longer than planned and she is out in the dark, and her ability to handle her apprehension at living alone since her husband died and her resolve to explore the world on her own are tested by an unexpected encounter.

The major novel I am currently reading is Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem. I must admit I knew nothing about this author other than he was in the jury of the last Giller Prize. I bought his latest novel on a whim, during a Kobo buying spree. From what I have recently read about the author, he tends to tell stories that delve into the lives of Americans. In the case of Dissident Gardens, we are transported into the mid-20th century, in the young lives of an American Communist couple, the subsequent life adventures of their only daughter and while there is only a brief encounter with her adult son at the beginning of the book, I suspect I will see more of it when I move into the second half of the book. So far, I have found the book a little slow, but then it does takes its time recreating mood and atmosphere of the various social contexts it depicts and the telling of events is very vivid. Just a bit more patience on my part might just pay off. Some of the characters remind me of a fellow student when I was attending graduate school in North Carolina. He had grown up in Baltimore with communist parents who certainly were nothing like typical American parents. He had a particularly flamboyant way of flouting conventions, from parking regulations to academic paper requirements.

I am also making my way through a book that was acclaimed as the “best” book of the year by Lire, one the French literary magazines that I like to browse through every month, and is also a winner of a prestigious French literary prize (Médicis Essai 2013). Svetlana Alexievitch, a Bielorussian/Ukrainian journalist, interviewed many people across Russia to write her monumental La fin de l’homme rouge ou le temps du désenchantement, telling the story of those who seem to lament the end of Soviet times and are disappointed with what the supposed freedom of capitalism has done to their lives. She uses oral histories to document how ordinary Russians feel about their life currently and how they perceive the historical changes that have affect them. Based on my own badly informed opinion, this book seems to be a significant entry in the literature on Post-Soviet times. I have not found a trace of an English translation of this book. According to the listing of her works in the English entry in Wikipedia, there does not seem to be one published yet.

So back to reading rather than thinking about reading… I have a stack of magazines (Lire, Magazine littéraire, and Books) by my comfy chair in the living room… and the Kobo and a pile of books. I just got a delivery from Amazon with the last two novels by Isabel Allende (El cuaderno de Maya and El juego de Ripper) and a book by my friend Gary Wilkinson in California, History of a Safer World, chronicling the history of Triconex and Wonderware, part of the wonderful world of industrial automation.