gail schimmel

The blog of writer Gail Schimmel: A bit of writing, a bit of parenting, a bit of thinking and some book reviews

Five Star Billionaire

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Back on my Man Booker reading journey, and I chose Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire as my next read.
This is one of those books that just grabbed me from the beginning – the words slipping into my brain like they had always belonged there. I think, because of the name, and the Asian connection, and the “look” of the book, I sort of expected a version of Q&A, and in many respects I was right.
Five Star Billionaire traces the lives of 5 main characters who are all Malaysian immigrants to the thriving, frightening, seething city of Shanghai. Shanghai is shown as a place of reinvention, of fast-paced lives and hard people looking out for themselves. Into this step 5 people, at first apparently unrelated, who all have or will reinvent themselves in some way. For me, there was a lot about the nature of our “true selves” that made me think – especially in this age of internet identity where we can present a version of our selves to the world that is not necessarily true (have I really read this book, for example? How would you know for sure?)
The author skilfully weaves back and forth in time – showing how these characters lives are and were interwoven. One half expects a happily-ever-after, where people find true love and happiness – a circumstance that seems elusive in Shanghai. But that’s not exactly what happens.
I was left wanting more of the characters – I actually couldn’t believe that the book was finished and started madly pushing buttons on my kindle trying to make more book. I even reread the end this morning, hoping that there was some sort of secret hyperlink to more. And I have questions – making me sympathetic to one of my own readers who cornered me at a social event the other day and demanded to know what happened to everyone after the book ended. If I ever meet Mr Aw, I will make similar demands.
The other thing that fascinated me as a writer from a “non-mainstream” country was how even though the book is set in a most foreign of places for me, and the place is central to the book, the reading did not feel foreign at all.
Read this book. It is lovely. People will be talking about it for a long time.

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