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The Double Life of Benson Yu: A Novel

por Kevin Chong

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798338,563 (3.74)3
In a Chinatown housing project lives twelve-year-old Benny, his ailing grandmother, and his strange neighbor Constantine, a man who believes he's a reincarnated medieval samurai. When his grandmother is hospitalized, Benny manages to survive on his own until a social worker comes snooping. With no other family, he is reluctantly taken in by Constantine and soon, an unlikely bond forms between the two. At least, that's what Yu, the narrator of the story, wants to write. The creator of a bestselling comic book, Yu is struggling with continuing the poignant tale of Benny and Constantine and can't help but interject from the present day, slowly revealing a darker backstory. Can Yu confront the demons he's spent his adult life avoiding or risk his own life...and Benny's?… (mais)
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TW: Suicide ideation and implied child sexual abuse
Thank you to NetGalley, the publishers Simon & Schuster, Atria Books, and the author Kevin Chong for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The blurb compares Charles Yu's Interior Chinatown, and the comparison is apt as Yu and Chong are writing similar themes of Chinese-American representation, Asian masculinity, Chinatown, boyhood/childhood, and fatherhood. Chong's novel is also similar to the upcoming book Flux as well, and while Flux uses the time-traveling framework to frame these themes, Yu and Chong use a meta-narrative aspect. Chong's writing echoes past works such as Frank Chin's The Chickencoop Chinaman, The Year of the Dragon, and Maxine Hong Kingston's China Men. Chong's meta-narrative is especially effective in rewriting and confronting childhood trauma, and how recreating sites of trauma into art can be empowering. The use of Japanese martial arts karate and Samurais serves as a representation of Asian masculinity and for approximation to Western masculinity. Benson embraces karate and Samurai as a form of assimilation politics as well. he actively avoids kung-fu and desires not to be like his Dad but becomes a terrible parent by being an alcoholic. By the end, Benson rewrites Benny's politics and gives him closure with Constantine, a closure that he'll never get from his abuser in real life, Benny remains firmly positioned in Chinatown and closer to his Chinese heritage through his Aunt, Steph. Overall, Chong's work is a great addition to Asian diaspora literature. ( )
  minhjngo | Mar 28, 2024 |
Benson Yu is a cartoonist. His best-selling comic book was Iggy Samurai. At times he is in his adult mode sharing his past and showing us his present. Then he goes into his comic book mode of his alter ego child, also named Benson Yu, and the samurai that protected Benson the child. Finally, Benson the adult and Benson the child meet. How do they come together? Who will prevail?

I am ambivalent about this story. The concept is interesting. It was jarring to come from the pages of the comic book into Benson's current adult life. Part II was even more jarring as the child and the adult live together for a while. Also the child is not of this time. Lots of odd things happen in Part II that left me confused. I had more questions than answers. I am not sure what really happened at the end in the dojo scene. I was glad that Benson the child seemed more settled after that and had communication with the samurai.

This is not a typical novel for me. I read it because I won it on a Goodreads Giveawy about a year ago. This is my fair and honest review. ( )
  Sheila1957 | Feb 28, 2024 |
Metafiction is not a preferred genre of mine. Things went relatively smoothly until I got to the final third of the novel, which was completely beyond me. I have zero interest in and hence know next to nothing about martial arts and Samurai weapons. (That knowledge is, I think, central to comprehending/visualizing the action in this section—as is mental agility and a tolerance for metafictional time-travel cleverness, which I evidently lack.) Reading this turned into a bore and a chore. My mind doesn’t work the way Chong’s does, and the narrative tricks that excite him have no hold on me. I came close, very close, to bailing on this book—so great was the mismatch between author and reader. A resounding NO from me. But this will be the cat’s meow for some.

Completed only because it was on the Giller shortlist. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Nov 12, 2023 |
Very engaging story: chapters shift point of view between teenage Benny, middle age Yu, and samurai-wannabe Constantine; time-travel is involved. How autobiographical is this? It's easy to presume that the depression and childhood dysfunction that Yu is working through is actually that of the Chong. I recommend this book.
After finishing the book, I realized that I really had only 1 point of identification with the story, and so was able to move on without being emotionally bound up in the tale. (That 1 point? not trusting people with blue eyes.) ( )
  juniperSun | Oct 28, 2023 |
The Double Life of Benson Yu weaves a delicate dance between past and present, fact and fiction, or perhaps factition. Benson Yu is a successful graphic author whose stories tell about the adventure of Benny and his Samurai teacher. It becomes clear that the story of Benny, a twelve-year-old boy living with his grandmother in Chinatown is Benson’s story with a bit of polishing over the traumatic bits.

When his grandmother suddenly dies, his somewhat feckless aunt it on the road and unable to provide care. He tries to carry on but the landlord wants the rent and he’s getting very hungry. He asks for help from his neighbor Constantine, a man who believes he is a samurai and who takes him in and teaches him the way of the Samurai.

While Benny’s life with Constantine is adventure-filled, Benson’s life was more traumatic and full of criminal activities that verge on slapstick. Until they didn’t. When he gets a letter from the real Constantine, it’s as though the past and present have merged and the fictional walk among the factual, or is it the other way around.

I loved The Double Life of Benson Yu. Benny is a smart, plucky little guy and I was rooting for him. Benson Yu is also a good guy even though he, maybe has some doubts. He’s struggling at the moment which is why the past and present become so fluid but I have faith in him.

I loved the characters and though Constantine was not a good person, he was there when no one else was. Benson makes the fictional Constantine, the Samurai, into a hero which suggests that somewhere among the trauma of his double life, he remembers the good as well as the bad.

I received an e-galley of The Double Life of Benson Yu from the publisher through Edelweiss.

The Double Life of Benson Yu at Simon & Schuster
Kevin Chong author site

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2023/08/27/the-double-life-of-benson... ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Aug 27, 2023 |
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In a Chinatown housing project lives twelve-year-old Benny, his ailing grandmother, and his strange neighbor Constantine, a man who believes he's a reincarnated medieval samurai. When his grandmother is hospitalized, Benny manages to survive on his own until a social worker comes snooping. With no other family, he is reluctantly taken in by Constantine and soon, an unlikely bond forms between the two. At least, that's what Yu, the narrator of the story, wants to write. The creator of a bestselling comic book, Yu is struggling with continuing the poignant tale of Benny and Constantine and can't help but interject from the present day, slowly revealing a darker backstory. Can Yu confront the demons he's spent his adult life avoiding or risk his own life...and Benny's?

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