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Southern Cross the Dog

3.16 of 5 stars 3.16  ·  rating details  ·  909 ratings  ·  187 reviews
An epic odyssey in which a young man must choose between the lure of the future and the claims of the past

With clouds looming ominously on the horizon, a group of children play among the roots of the gnarled Bone Tree. Their games will be interrupted by a merciless storm–bringing with it the Great Flood of 1927–but not before Robert Chatham shares his first kiss with the b
ebook, 336 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Ecco (first published May 1st 2013)
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Just because someone can write – and Bill Cheng can write – doesn’t mean they have a story to tell.

Here, in this debut novel, Cheng speaks through the voices of a handful of African-Americans as the Mississippi floods in 1927. If I’m reading the linear notes and the author’s ‘Acknowledgements’ correctly, Bill Cheng is an Asian-American who lives in New York, studied writing in school, and has a very nice collection of Blues music. He lists 18 Blues musicians by name and then “all the late great
Jeanne Thornton
This book is by a friend of mine. This friend of mine, Bill Cheng, is "the shit." So is his book. I had the distinct privilege to be around while this was being written, got to hear it come out chapter by chapter every two to four weeks or so. When you are being held captive on a rowboat in the middle of a flood by Mr. Stuckey, you will not want to wait two weeks to find out how you escape. Bill Cheng takes the blues as his starting point and reconstructs a Mississippi of the imagination, one wi ...more
Jul 16, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of Southern literature;
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: browsing the shelves of my local bookstore
Shelves: fiction
Cheng's book opens in the Mississippi delta. It's the spring of 1927 and a group of children are playing, teasing, flirting at the boundaries of adolescent exploration. Yes, they are black, but playing among themselves, this is of little consequence at the moment. What is of consequence is that in a few hours, the “Fatal Flood of 1927” will destroy their homes and uproot them forever.

Look at the newsreel footage of the levees ( Its dramatic impact pales
Bill Cheng's debut novel shows flashes of greatness but it ultimately fails to pull everything - the characters, the setting, the potential - together into a story that I actually invested in.

Robert is a small child when the flood of 1927 hits Mississippi. His family is still reeling from personal tragedy when they are forced out of their home by the rising waters. We then follow Robert through the next 14 years - not always in chronological order - as we learn that he is separated from his fami
Rod  Norman

I was totally taken aback by this book. It was a debut novel and although the early reviews were good, I wasn't prepared for how good it was. It was very good. The thing that blew me away was how well Bill Cheng was able to capture the feel of the times and place the novel was set. Why, because the author was from the East coast and has never even been to Mississippi. This is a Southern classic and Cheng does an outstanding job of giving us colorful characters to care about as we begin our jour
After losing everything in the Great Flood of 1927, Robert Lee Chatham ventures throughout the Deep South, settling in brothels, swamps and labor camps. His life is changed when he meets a blues piano player who teaches him to keep his evil contained. Still, wherever his journey carries him, Robert refuses to abandon his belief that the devil is close behind, marking him for death since childhood.

The world Bill Cheng has created in this novel is incredibly well developed, which is quite a feat
Southern Cross the Dog effectively creates a sense of place, the Mississippi Delta in the early 20th century, a world of danger, racial hatred, disappointment, and occasional hope. The descriptions of the land are vivid and often fresh (though sometimes confusing and amateurish). Overall, the creation of a southern ambiance is a remarkable achievement considering the author is a New Yorker who has never visited Mississippi.

Although I liked the descriptive power of the book, I didn't like the sto
I read this book and I couldn't tell you the plot. First, there's barely any plot. Second, I don't care. I don't care about this book at all. I thought it was pretentious and annoying.

The author does not use quotation marks. I'm sure you're thinking "wow, that's so edgy! That's so bold!". It's neither edgy nor bold. It's stupid. It's stupid because I never knew if the lines were speech, thoughts or exposition. I also never knew who was speaking. Now, in general, this is a bad decision but for a
Jim Mcfarlane
Feb 01, 2013 Jim Mcfarlane marked it as to-read
To appreciate this novel, Southern Cross the Dog, I think a reader needs to understand the geography and history of the setting.

The “Delta,” technically an alluvial floodplain, is a broad swath of northwest Mississippi, stretching from the bluffs of Memphis to the bluffs of Vicksburg and from the banks of the Mississippi River to Yazoo River where it borders the low hills of central Mississippi. Because of periodic flooding over thousands of years, the Delta is an uncommonly flat, rich farmland
Michele Weiner
Southern Gothic with the emphasis on Gothic.. The main story is about Robert Chatham, a child when his brother, Billy, was lynched and his mother lost her mind, still a child when the flood of 1927 wiped out his world and many of the people and places he knew. The descriptions of the flood and its aftermath were among the most affecting in the whole book.

Robert and his mother and father were rescued from the roof-high waters by a man in a boat, and ended up in a refugee tent being fed starvatio
Southern Cross the Dog
By Bill Cheng
4 stars
pp. 324

I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works so hard, to keep the water away

I had a woman, she wouldn't do for me
I had a woman, she wouldn't do for me
I'm goin' back to my used to be

I's a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan
I's a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan
Gonna leave my baby, and my happy home
~ Memphis Minnie

Well I never will forget that floating bridge.
Lord I never will forg
Jaime Boler
If you are looking for a substantial read, I highly recommend two historical epic novels that may, at first glance, seem very dissimilar yet share many characteristics.

In elegant, lucid prose, fiction newcomer Kent Wascom brings the frontier, in all its violence and disorder, to stunning life in The Blood of Heaven. Wascom follows Angel Woolsack, from his early life as the son of an itinerant preacher to the bordellos of Natchez and the barrooms of New Orleans to the bayous of Louisiana where An
Andy Weston
This greatly enjoyable first novel spans much of the life of Robert Chatham who was 8 years old at the time of the great flood in the Mississippi delta in 1927. With such an impressive first novel I am left wondering what Cheng has been doing in his younger years. Dealing with issues of loss, coming of age, race, poverty and far more his writing leads to great anticipation for what will happen next. Its gothic atmosphere means it stands justifiable comparison to the great Southern novels, To kil ...more
Jerry Peace
Best line- "Come sunset, the dogwoods blazed and the sun set moody below the western hills. Out toward Bruce, rows and rows of gabled roofs held the last of the greasy sunlight." Mr. Cheng takes a chance with each sentence, heck, with each word. Some are the moon, some point to the moon, and some are reflections of the moon broken in a pond. But his subjects-violence, geographic, meteorologic, and genetic; nature-the mother who kisses then eats her young; and the past's crippling chokehold many ...more
Will Lock
Don’t worry about the chatter regarding how a New Yorker of Asian heritage could write a book about being Black in the South. He just did it, capturing the spirit and pathos of people--African American and Cajun--for whom survival against all odds, or random death at the end of a mob’s hanging rope, is the nature of life. Sure, there are times when Cheng’s poorly educated, rural African American characters suddenly speak as if they just came out of an intro to psychology course, but that does no ...more
Seems like there is a lot of hate for this book, which is odd for two reasons. Firstly, this was a beautifully written tale. Cheng vividly creates a sense of place, with a very lyrical style. Secondly, I don't understand why someone would expend so much energy on reading and reviewing a book they didn't enjoy. Some readers complained about the lack of story, when really this is a series of interlinked tales featuring a small cast of characters, rather than a straightforward single narrative. Che ...more
This book got some great reviews in big media outlets and big-name authors, but....I think its a pretty good first outing by a promising author and that's about it. As someone pretty familiar with that part of history and the setting, I just never got pulled in by the story. The style of writing was really good in parts but the entire narrative just didn't come together for me. Finally, I think its admirable that the author tried to cover wide-ranging groups of people, e.g. the trappers who inha ...more
Steve Masler
I'm not sure which book some of the other reviewers read who are making comments such as, I didn't get it and no plot. Bill Cheng's first novel reads more like a masterpiece that should be assigned to college lit students. Southern Cross the Dog (which for some reason confused a lot of people)refers to Moorehead Mississippi, where the Southern railroad crosses the Yazoo line railroad line that the locals called the "Yellow Dog." It is the heart of the delta, the embodiment of the Blues. Cheng's ...more
Abby Lollar
Incredibly good. Very well-executed.
Josh Mlot
"Southern Cross the Dog" by Bill Cheng is not a hopeful novel. It's a novel of struggle and drifting and chasing and running. It is, I guess, exactly what a story inspired by blues music should be.

The story follows main character Robert Lee Chatham, who lives in Mississippi's delta with his father and mother, who has been troubled ever since the lynching of Robert's brother, Billy, for being involved with a white girl. Although we only get slight glimpses of Billy's death until later in the nove
I read this book and I couldn't tell you the plot. First, there's barely any plot. Second, I don't care. I don't care about this book at all. I thought it was pretentious and annoying.

The author does not use quotation marks. I'm sure you're thinking "wow, that's so edgy! That's so bold!". It's neither edgy nor bold. It's stupid. It's stupid because I never knew if the lines were speech, thoughts or exposition. I also never knew who was speaking. Now, in general, this is a bad decision but for a
Well, wow! I have been to Mississippi in the first half of the twentieth century and barely stumbled my way back. How did Cheng do it? The descriptions of the people, the times, and the place are so vivid. Don't take my word for it though:

"We slept huddled, the rain pattering the canvas around us, the dead weight of our bodies on top of each other. I woke several times through the night, too empty to move, and I saw the raw morning spill through a tear in the canvas, the sky mud yellow, clanking
Karen Chase
I eagerly went into this book hoping that I would learn about Blues, about Mississippi and the people of this time period. Had I gone into this book with that knowledge already, it might have had more meaning. As a result I was never sure what I was reading about exactly. The context seemed to be missing. If the author's intent was to keep me as confused, displaced and disjointed as those affected by a flooding, he accomplished it. While some sentence structure was lovely, overall, I found mysel ...more
Awesome first novel by the Chinese-American Bill Cheng, a Gothic odyssey set in the Deep South (the Mississippi Delta) in the 1920's-30's. This is what I would want to write like if I could write. Bill Cheng, who lives with his wife in Brooklyn, is also a graduate of Baruch College in Manhattan, where my husband went to graduate school. I had many reasons to love this book!

Beware of GoodReads reviews that tell the entire story! The story is presented in a non-linear fashion, and the bulk of the
I swear, I'm going to stop reading books by new authors that are said to be "the new voice of the (you name it)" and claimed to be stunning, original and all that stuff. This has to be the 5th or 6th book I've read since January that was supposed to be the best ever that I've thought was worthless.

Cheng gives us a picture of the South from the flood of 1927 through the early 1940s. It's not a progressive novel but skips between the periods. He tries to cover virtually all aspects of the "unknown
Cheng wrote a stunning novel in "Southern Cross the Dog," the kind of novel that makes me happy that novels are written, read, and talked about. His prose is strong, it grips the reader and draws them in. He constructs a narrative that is moving and provoking, with skill and craftsmanship. Hard to believe that this is a debut novel. Since I started reading "Southern Cross the Dog" I have not been able to stop thinking about it and it will be with me forever. This is a special book, a lasting boo ...more
Bob Tankersley
I honest-to-goodness picked this up because of the cover. It evoked a handmade quality that quickly caught my eye.

Like others have said here, this book starts extremely well. I found myself caught up easily and had read the first 150 or so pages in one sitting. After that, the narrative becomes somewhat disjointed. I know that this is the odyssey of Robert Chatham, but I never felt like I stayed in one story long enough to give it a depth of meaning.

As the book went along the changes in narrator
No one in this book felt like a living soul. They only felt like words on pages. I don't know what ability it is exactly that reshapes black text into the form of a person, but I suspect Bill Cheng doesn't have it. I don't mean to cast aspersions, but being born and raised in Queens and living in Brooklyn, but trying to write like deep Southern, doesn't seem to sit right. You may have watched a lot of boxing matches, but that doesn't mean you should get in the ring with Pacquiao.
Sarah Horn
style: A southern gothic wedding between toni morrison/william faulkner/mark twain/zora neale hurston/flannery o'connor and a blues musician

pros: some of the most beautiful, interesting language I have ever seen. This kid can write and you will get lost in the absolute stunning use of prose and narrative.

cons: the plot comes and goes. on a metaphoric level, this may reflect the lifestyle of the characters and their conundrums etc, but from a reader's perspective it gets a little weary. even cli
Courtney Brown
I don't know, maybe like a 2.5.

There were certainly parts I liked, though it seems like these parts were inserted at random (Dora's mid-book narrative, Ellis' late-book narrative, G.D., Frankie). I'm pretty confused about Eli and let down by the end of both the Eli and Dora stories.

Also, and maybe I'm irrationally hung up on this, but I feel like much of this book was based on "Southern atmospherics," that is, the feel and sound of the Southern landscape. I have read good writing by plenty of p
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“When I was a baby child, they put the jinx on me. It was in my drink and food and milk. And when I ran, it heavied in my bones and when I sang, it stopped up my throat and when I loved, it let from me, hot and poisonous. I saw it in my daddy, the hard lines of his face, that uneasy lope - how in his years he didn't lift his feet, but slid them, soles across this gritted earth. It settled in my mama, trembled her voice and blanked her eyes. My brother, Billy, locked it inside him and it carried him low into that deep earth, silting then into the river and dew and air, in the moths and bee catchers, borne skyward and, as will be, lowed again, into earth again. It's dusking. There goes the sun. There goes sky and cloud and light, taken into that black horizon. And I know I am bad crossed. I see its line. It reaches up, arcs. It cuts through me. It draws me on and dogs me down to that place where I am bound. And when it is I borne down, my eyes and mouth stitched with gut, when they take my balls and brain and heart, and that deeper black claims me wholly, then let me meet that sumbitch at his eye, for I know my name's been writ - Robert Lee Chatham - in his Book.” 1 likes
“And it was funny, that they call it falling, because that was what it was. The ground giving up underneath you. The surge of air. He did not stand a chance.” 0 likes
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