Fourth Estate, £18.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Five Star Billionaire, By Tash Aw

In a novel about the rocky road to riches, Chinese Malaysians seek their fortunes in Shanghai.

Famines, disasters, turmoil and poverty have driven millions of Chinese people from their homes to foreign lands for centuries. Now the grand-daughters and grandsons of the original "sons of the yellow emperor" are returning home; history has turned full circle.

In his third novel, Tash Aw, who was brought up in Malaysia, brings together five disparate – and desperate – Malaysians of Chinese origin caught in the vortex of fast-changing Shanghai. Through their intertwining lives, he presents a bleak picture of desolation and loneliness, where money can't buy happiness.

Aw's award-winning debut, The Harmony Silk Factory, was set in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation, its protagonist a double-crossing textile tycoon whose son describes him as "a liar, a cheat, a traitor, and a skirt-chaser".

Map of the Invisible World took place in the turbulent Indonesia of 1960s, when the dictator Sukarno's deluded rhetoric was taking a toll on the lives of the poor, as two brothers sought to understand their past from different vantage-points.

In Five Star Billionaire, Aw introduces rich and poor overseas Chinese, trying to make their mark by leaving Malaysia for China. Uprooted once, never feeling entirely at home, many looked abroad – and in this century, that often means China.

Phoebe escapes rural Malaysia for Guangdong, meant to be a stop on her way to Shanghai. She is determined to find herself a boyfriend, later a husband, who would care for her. Devoid of scruples, she will recreate herself, building confidence via questionable self-help books and an imaginary narrative.

The anonymity of internet chatrooms facilitates her own pursuit of happiness. Justin, from an old moneyed family, determines to strike a property deal that would make his family's mark in Shanghai. Leong Yinghui has left her bohemian past to become a successful businesswoman, targeting products and services that pamper the wealthy.

Then there is Gary, a pop idol on the cusp of global fame whose career nosedives after an entirely foreseen altercation at a night club. And there is mysterious Walter Chao, whom every maitre d' in Shanghai seems to know, but about whom, curiously, the banks know little.

They carry the curse of self-destruction. Insecure, they assert their identity through worldly possessions, and sink into the numbing depression that the loneliness and soullessness of the big city brings. Concerned only with success, and unable to articulate what it would mean, they remain shallow, constantly seeking a deeper meaning that eludes them.

Shanghai is a psychedelic city here, pulsating to its own beat of punishing schedules, where an ignored message on a BlackBerry can snuff out a lifetime opportunity. And at the novel's core is that old emotion, revenge – of getting even, across generations, with the sins of the fathers visited on the sons and daughters.

The five characters are distinct, and Aw manages to bring them together well at most times. Their lives get intertwined and enmeshed. Some of these chance encounters are inventive, but a few stretch credibility.

Aw brilliantly recreates the intonations and vocabulary of someone educated only in Chinese, but when his characters express unexpectedly profound thoughts, it is difficult to separate the author from the character. In a novel where each character seeks a happier future, nobody ends up happy, and the city has no time to pause for the fallen to rise again.

Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada