Email this review


Making it in Shanghai: Five immigrants find life challenging in Malaysian Aw’s third outing.

All five are ethnic Chinese from Malaysia. Phoebe and Gary are from the poor, rural North; Justin and Yinghui are from powerful, wealthy families. There’s also Walter Chao (more about him later). Phoebe has little going for her, but she knows from self-help books to re-invent herself. Gary, still in his teens, is a pop star; after wowing them in Taiwan, he’s preparing for his first Shanghai concert. Yinghui was forced to leave Malaysia when the family business collapsed; now 37, she owns two successful lingerie stores. Justin is here on family business to acquire real estate. When he and Yinghui, who knew each other in Malaysia, have a chance meeting, it counts as a hallelujah moment, simply since any character interaction is a relief from the long slabs of exposition. The only break has been the voice of Walter Chao, who addresses the reader directly. He has overcome poverty in Malaysia to become a successful businessman and author of self-help books (yes, Phoebe’s read them). Walter’s a philanthropist, he tells us, but is he reliable or a con man? The question gathers urgency after he persuades Yinghui to invest in a cultural center. The answer comes only at the very end, in one throwaway sentence, Aw having seemingly lost interest in his own handiwork. Shanghai, painted in broad strokes, is a city that never sleeps, an eerie replica of New York. There are numerous flashbacks to Malaysia, where Yinghui had a long relationship with Justin’s brother; the only interesting writing is the barbed treatment of these two Westernized poseurs.

A clunky novel.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9434-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2013


NonfictionSHANGHAI by Harriet Sergeant
by Harriet Sergeant
FictionSHANGHAI BABY by Wei Hui
by Wei Hui
FictionHAPPY DREAMS by Jia Pingwa
by Jia Pingwa
FictionTHE WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga
by Aravind Adiga