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Southern Cross the Dog [Hardcover]

Bill Cheng
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
RRP: £14.99
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Book Description

24 Oct 2013

When the Great Flood of 1927 devastates Mississippi, eight-year-old Robert Chatham loses everything.

Robert’s adventures in the brooding swamplands – from hard labour to imprisonment to thwarted love – are full of courage, danger and heartbreak. This is story of how a small, hurt boy becomes a tough, young man: forced to choose between the lure of the future and the claims of his past.

Set against one of the great American landscapes, Southern Cross the Dog is a mesmerizing and savagely beautiful novel. It marks the arrival of Bill Cheng as a writer of astonishing gifts.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (24 Oct 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1447224892
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447224891
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 524,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'An incredibly daring and powerful debut. Not only does Bill Cheng set the language on fire in Southern Cross the Dog, but he creates a whole new territory of story-telling. One of the great literary enterprises is the ability to understand 'otherness,' and Cheng proves masterful in his ability to dwell in another era and place, while still remaining rooted in the landscape of the human heart. Cheng, almost literally, writes out of his skin.' Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

'Fantastic and beautifully written, Southern Cross the Dog is an epic and bluesy throwdown in the Southern tradition.' Nathan Englander, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Cheng rises head and shoulders above the crowd by virtue of one very convincing fact: throughout Southern Cross the Dog the reader never has any idea what will happen next. Chatham's journey . . . is as rollicking as the blues that one of its central protagonists, Eli, plays on his beat-up harmonium. It's a book full of flashes of thrilling darkness, surprising acts of kindness from bad people, and a social injustice that really crawls under your skin and angrily pulsates long after the novel is done. The overall effect is something like listening to a great lost country song, watching a Depression-era version of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke documentary and reading the punchiest Cormac McCarthy novel there ever was, all at the same time. (Tom Cox Observer)

Cheng jumps between times and place with superb power and assurance, driving his epic story up to the second world war. His writing fizzes with invention; he characters jump right off the page. (The Times)

This is an assured debut novel . . . Robert's journey into manhood is a tour de force of descriptive power, a poetic invocation of the blues . . . there are some unforgettable set pieces and the writing is sublime throughout. (Mail on Sunday)

For the first few pages of Bill Cheng's debut Southern Cross the Dog, you may feel disoriented. Good. That's the author's intention. You are not in the world of realist fiction, a landscape peopled with recognisable characters who are about to embark upon a familiar story. You are in the world of language and music. . . It is southern gothic without a break, because Robert hardly gets a day off from his struggle . . .this is, after all, the deep south, in both history and literature the home of an unstable mix of trauma, dram and melodrama. . . Southern Cross the Dog is an experiment in submerging the reader in the rhythms and language of a period of US history and literature that has disappeared. He has made his book out of fascination and research. It is haunting and unrelenting. (Guardian)

Fraught with poverty, pain and inhumanity, this tale of a young boy's passage from childhood to manhood in a harsh, segregated world is a Delta blues song in book form that has earned Cheng comparisons with the US novelist Cormac McCarthy. (Metro)

'Bill Cheng offers a grand and precious novel that splendidly extends our appreciation for an endlessly complex place in our American world, a place of colorful and unforgettable characters and landscapes both threatening and inviting. His work is lush and so very often poetic. Southern Cross the Dog has large and small echoes of masterful works, but we should not make any mistake—Cheng has carved out his own creative and accomplished path. His novel is a welcome and necessary addition to a society where good and compelling writing and stories are not as easy to find as some may think.' Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World and All Aunt Hagar’s Children

If the accumulation of Southern Gothic tropes suggests a voodoo reanimation of William Faulkner, that might not be far off the mark . . . Cheng's acknowledgements pay tribute to a roll-call of Southern bluesmen . . . his imagination is saturated in their plangent and fatalistic evocations of a vanished world. That world, lovingly reanimated within these pages, is a hypnotic one. Cheng knows how to locate the uncanny folkloric resonance in these impoverished backwoods lives . . . The description is so pungent it has the power to overturn all preconceived notions about imitation and authenticity. (Sunday Telegraph)

Vividly evokes the backwoods balefulness and enchantment of such contesting cinematic variation on the genre as The Night of the Hunter and Beast of the Southern Wild. (Sunday Times)

Readers will enjoy Cheng's capacity for channelling classic southern voices, mind-sets, moods and mores. (Financial Times)

You can feel the blues leaking out the edges of the pages. (Irish Sunday Independent)

Cheng - heavily influenced by bluesman such as Big Bill Broonzy - builds a mesmerising sense of time and place . . . (Shortlist)

This cool, assured debut marks the arrival of a new great American author . . . A dreamlike read, this takes you back to another America. (Psychologies)

While American readers argue over its authenticity, British readers can sit back and relish this terrific slice of Southern Gothic. (Independent)

Southern Cross the Dog is a sterling debut with beautiful poetic prose that shouts with visibility and heartfelt monologues. . . a fantastic novel of survival and strength . . . Cheng charts the haunting experiences of everyday life in a masterful voice that is impressive from a debut novelist. . . Every passage is faultless . . . The vivid descriptions of the landscape, social experiences and character's relations are laced with shattering emotions that will certainly mesmerise. (We Love This Book)

Cheng's debut novel is a refreshing take on the 1920s . . . Cheng never set foot in Mississippi, the book is full of accurate details about the place: even the title is a reference to a railroad crossing. Cheng also pay tribute to many Southern blues men, and brings the dirt tracks and tin-roofed shacks to life. (Lady)

It's an exceptionally promising debut and a remarkable piece of writing. (Irish Examiner)

‘Bill Cheng, who is Chinese American and easily could have plumbed the depths of his first-generation immigrant experience for colorful material to novelize, to his credit took another route entirely. An evident old soul at 29, Cheng, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and has never been to Mississippi, has nevertheless conjured up a rhapsodic ode to the blues and the bluesmen that move him... Cheng's writing is vivid and gorgeous, particularly in his descriptions of the flood. "Telegraph poles had collapsed together in a nest of crucifixions," he writes, and "homes bled out their insides - bureaus, bathtubs, drawers, gramophones - before folding into themselves." It is a courageous act of literary ventriloquism’ San Francisco Chronicle

Southern Cross the Dog has all the markers of a novel written in the finest Southern gothic tradition’ New York Times

‘Cheng’s prose evokes the eerie, textured music of Cormac McCarthy . . . unforgettable’ Wall Street Journal

'A wildly ambitious debut novel—vividly imagined, frequently poetic—conjuring the Southern Delta of the first half of the 20th century as a fever dream, steeped in the blues. . . . Suggests an elaboration of [Robert Johnson’s classic ‘Hellhound on My Trail’], extended to novel length, filtered through Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. . . . It’s hard to resist the sweep of Southern history . . . the way [Cheng] makes the devil as palpably real as the natural world that he pervades, blurring the distinction between dreams and destiny. The title suggests a mysterious piece of Southern folk art, and the novel works a similar magic. . . . A strong voice and a compelling achievement.' Kirkus

'A vibrant world grows from the pages of Southern Cross the Dog and its dynamic mix of language and place. Bill Cheng conjures history with precision and style in his exceptional debut.' Ravi Howard, author of Like Trees Walking

'An authentic, riveting portrait of the Mississippi Delta and its complex worlds. In a series of interlocking stories, Bill Cheng embraces the region's 1927 flood, voodoo, blues, and race with breathtakingly beautiful prose.' William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

‘In this brooding, spine-chilling southern odyssey, Cheng’s interpretation of a place of bone-deep suffering and rare flashes of grace is bold and piercing, and his darkly rhapsodic language is so imaginative and highly charged that each word seems newly forged.’ Booklist starred review

‘A novel in the great Southern tradition; think Cormac McCarthy or a 21st-century Faulkner. . . This book is a winner for lovers of plot; tough, lyrical writing; history; and the trials of the deep South.’ Library Journal starred review

'With its evocative settings and rich McCarthyesque language, this Southern gothic packs a punch like a mean drunk.' Publishers Weekly starred review

‘Iris Murdoch once wrote that you know almost immediately when you pick up a wonderful book. There’s an ineffable magic that swims through the first dozen or so pages . . . Bill Cheng set out to write a great book, an important book. He conjures up the American South with a deliberate homage to William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury . . . life for the blacks is like life for the whites, only a hundred times worse . . . It’s a warning that Bill Cheng articulates all too well in his powerful debut: The best you can hope for in this encounter with life is a draw.’ Washington Post

‘Bill Cheng, a 29-year-old Chinese-American New York native, dares to set his lyrical debut in the Jim Crow-era Delta region. Southern Cross the Dog follows Robert Lee Chatham as he barely survives the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 as a child and then struggles as a young black man in the racist South. Along the way he encounters a tragic brothel owner, a blues pianist with dark powers, and white fur trappers who hold him hostage. Cheng's sun-scorched prose recalls William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and Cormac McCarthy. Not bad for a first-timer.’ Entertainment Weekly

From the Back Cover

'Not only does Bill Cheng set the language on fire, he creates a whole new territory of story-telling' Colum McCann

When the Great Flood of 1927 devastates Mississippi, eight-year-old Robert Chatham loses everything.

His adventures in the brooding swamplands are full of courage, danger and heartbreak. This is the unforgettable story of how a small, hurt boy becomes a tough young man: forced to choose between the lure of the future and the claims of his past.

'Superb power and assurance. The characters jump right off the page' The Times

'A tour de force, a poetic invocation of the blues. Sublime' Mail on Sunday

'Haunting' Guardian

'Hypnotic' Sunday Telegraph

'Thrilling' Observer

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's OK 21 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bought this because I am a big American Blues music fan and have read many books connected to the Missippippi area and the history of the time. I found some of the story interesting from an historical standpoint but there was less musical content than I had hoped for. Its a novel, based on the authors knowledge of the time and location, very descriptive and very well written for a first book. As my heading says, for me it was OK, but not in my top 20.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read. 16 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
To be honest I struggled a bit with this book and found it quite difficult to get into. Because of this I found myself reading only about 20 pages at a time. I persevered though and finished the book. Overall it was interesting book and definitely provided me with an insight into life in the swamps in the deep south of the USA. Maybe if I read the book again in a few months time I will get more out of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay 11 Jan 2014
By The Emperor TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This wasn't too bad. Nowhere near as good as some of Cormac McCarthy's books though. I felt that it was too self-consciously "southern" and literary. Another book written for the critics and not the reader.
I would probably rate this at three and a half stars if I could. It does show a lot of promise but I really felt that there should have been more of a story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant first novel 17 Oct 2013
By Asphodelia TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I chose this book because it had been compared to the work of Cormac McCarthy - one of my favourite authors.
The comparisons are absolutely deserved; this is one of those novels in which each sentence is beautiful in the true sense of the word: lyrical, evocative, perfectly crafted to the point that it feels effortless. Unlike some of Cormac McCarthy's novels, however, Southern Cross The Dog is a more readable novel, with more sympathetic characters and a story that combines natural calamities, race and the birth of jazz. It really is hard to believe that this is the author's first novel.

Some readers have complained that this book doesn't have a real plot. That depends on what they mean by plot: this is not a Dan Brown potboiler with lots of twists and turns. In a way, that's why it feels so gritty and true, because real life isn't perfect symmetry. Literary fiction is also the one genre in which writers often do away with things like a plot ('a plot? I don't need that. Bah!'), often with less than satisfactory results. But when the writing is so good that it draws you in and pulls you down like the swamp in which a large part of this book is sset, I am not going to complain.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A RAW GRITTY READ 2 Sep 2013
By Alexander Bryce TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Starting with the great Mississippi flood of 1927 when townships and ways of life in a few days were washed away never to return we follow the odyssey of three black children to adulthood; Dora , GD and Robert. One to death , one to madness and one to a life of lowly labor. This is not a gentle or charming tale. It plumbs the depths of man's depravity; of man's inhumanity to fellow man, of poverty in extreme, of racial inequality hard to imagine happening not that long ago.
Sounds like a really miserable read. It is not. It is an interesting page turner as we follow the paths of the three main characters and the many bit part players they meet along the way. This is Bill Cheng's first novel and a very fine start in the tradition of McCarthy, O'Connor and perhaps McMurtry.
Would have given 5 stars if not for the ,in my opinion , overlong sequence when twentieth century progress clears the trappers' swamps and ends a crude way of existance that had lasted for generations.Also some of the passages don't tie together with the reader left wondering the fate of several fairly prominent characters,
Mr. Cheng has done his research well and in detail to produce such an utterly believable epic
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply amazing and ambitious debut 14 Sep 2013
By Tommy Dooley TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is Bill Cheng's debut and I was attracted to it by comparisons to Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor, two very hard acts to follow especially McCarthy who I rate as one of the greatest living English language authors. This starts with the great Mississippi flood of 1927, we meet Robert Chatham who as a child gets flooded out and barely makes it out with his father and sickly mother. We also meet two of his friends Dora and G.D. who will feature through out despite being separated by that tragic event.

The journey of all especially Robert is fraught with poverty, pain and danger living at a time when America was truly segregated and to be a black person meant you were at the bottom of most pecking orders. Cheng writes in a way that is both economic with the facts yet poetical with the telling. The language echoes a bygone era when the old world of the South was meeting the new world being brought ostensibly by the North. The settings are sometimes bleak and the land seems unforgiving and in a way that is probably a metaphor for life at the time. The attention to detail and research is truly inspiring and I found it an utterly absorbing read. The stories flit though time and places with stories within stories but all coming together in the end.

This is a book where the component parts are often left unended, and we want to know more about what happened to some of the players, but that is what real life is like, we all have friends we have lost touch with and may never know where their road came to a conclusion, this is true of many of the folk we encounter here. Cheng writes with a confidence that one sees all too rarely and is both compelling and poetic at the same time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Odd book
Weil written but rather confused and confusing. Great evocation of the times and the landscape but did not really engage with it at all.
Published 5 months ago by Stephen Westacott
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Southern Cross The Dog: A superb novel that leaves you wondering at both the resilience of the main character, Robert Chatham, and how in the heck he survives the unremitting... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Lily
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful and Hostile
The haunting narrative of ‘Southern Cross The Dog’ is disjointed as it moves forwards and backwards between 1927 and 1941 at a time when racial prejudice was rife in America. Read more
Published 8 months ago by D. Elliott
5.0 out of 5 stars Top quality debut
Loved everything about this book. The author has been compared to Cormac M and other Modern Western writers, but to me has a lot more humanity and compassion for his characters. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Steve Kenny
2.0 out of 5 stars Dog's breakfast
Southern Cross The Dog is a bit of a dog's breakfast.

It all starts so well. A music mogul, Mr Duke, rescuing a black pianist, Eli Cutter, from a Mississippi jail where... Read more
Published 10 months ago by MisterHobgoblin
5.0 out of 5 stars A possible future classic
This is a fabulous literary novel by new writer Bill Cheng, and demonstrates that he has the ability to become a real American heavyweight. Read more
Published 10 months ago by G. J. Oxley
3.0 out of 5 stars Supposed southern gothic ...
The book starts well with the beginning of the 'Great Mississippi Flood' in 1927 and Robert Chatham's family escaping from their home. Read more
Published 13 months ago by P. Millar
2.0 out of 5 stars Mississippi Blues
This book may well succeed in the US but I can't see it doing so over here. Mixed time scales of stories from the Deep South based around a black boy's growing up among the... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Jeff
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