Review by: Francis Pavri
If you want to read something “local” try these two books – The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng and Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw. Although not “domestic local”, the settings of the books are in Malaysia and China, both of which are somewhat familiar. Use of Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese are peppered throughout the texts.
Both writers Tan Twan Eng and Tash Aw have very similar backgrounds. Both are Malaysians and did the early education there. Both went to read Law in England and practiced for a while. Both then became full time writers as a result of their very successful writing. They are also about the same age.
These two books have both been long listed for the Man Booker Prize.
Aw’s book “Five Star Billionaire” (Wu Xing Hao Men) set in China recounts the lives of four new arrivals to bustling and ever expanding Shanghai – a city where nothing matters but money. Phoebe hails from Malaysia drawn to the big city away from her little town in Kuantan and is mesmerized by the glitter and money. Her life and the other three migrants, an ambitious businesswoman, a bankrupt son of a multimillionaire and a failed teen idol intertwine into a mysterious fantasy.
Aw spent a year at NTU as writer in residence.
A sample of his writing.
As the girl bent over her magazine, Phoebe could see that she was definitely a girlfriend, not a sister. Her hair fell over her face, so Phoebe could not tell if she was pretty, but she sat the way a pretty person would. Her dress was a big black shirt with loads of words printed all over it like graffiti, no-meaning sentences such as PEACE $ $ $ PARIS, and honestly it looked horrible and made her body look formless as a ghost, but it was expensive, anyone could see that. The handbag on the floor was made of leather that looked soft enough to melt into the ground. It spread out at the girl’s feet like an exotic pet, and Phoebe wanted to stroke its crosshatch pattern to see what it felt like. The boy leaned forward, and in the mirrored reflection he caught Phoebe’s eye. He said something to his girlfriend in Shanghainese, which Phoebe couldn’t understand, and the girl looked up at Phoebe with a sideways glance. It was something that Shanghainese girls had perfected, this method of looking at you side-on without ever turning their faces to you. It meant that they could show off their fine cheekbones and appear uninterested at the same time, and it made you feel that you were not important at all to them, not worthy even of a proper stare.
This book is available from the National Library Singapore.
Five Star Billionaire – Call Number: English AW