Southern Cross the Dog
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.
`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 `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 'With its evocative settings and rich McCarthyesque language, this Southern gothic packs a punch like a mean drunk.' Publishers Weekly 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 `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 '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 '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 '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 `Cheng's prose evokes the eerie, textured music of Cormac McCarthy . . . unforgettable' Wall Street Journal `Southern Cross the Dog has all the markers of a novel written in the finest Southern gothic tradition' New York Times `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 It's an exceptionally promising debut and a remarkable piece of writing. * Irish Examiner * 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 * 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 * While American readers argue over its authenticity, British readers can sit back and relish this terrific slice of Southern Gothic. * Independent * This cool, assured debut marks the arrival of a new great American author . . . A dreamlike read, this takes you back to another America. * Psychologies * Cheng - heavily influenced by bluesman such as Big Bill Broonzy - builds a mesmerising sense of time and place . . . * Shortlist * You can feel the blues leaking out the edges of the pages. * Irish Sunday Independent * Readers will enjoy Cheng's capacity for channelling classic southern voices, mind-sets, moods and mores. * Financial Times * 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 * '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 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 * 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 * 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 * 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 * '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 '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
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