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The Dog Fighter: A Novel

The Dog Fighter: A Novel

4.8 5
by Marc Bojanowski

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A stunning novel set in 1940s Mexico about a young man who becomes involved in a brutally violent spectator sport and must choose his loyalties in the fight for a city’s future.

The anonymous narrator of this remarkable novel is a young drifter in search of his future. The son of a passionate beauty and gentle doctor, he roams the border between the United


A stunning novel set in 1940s Mexico about a young man who becomes involved in a brutally violent spectator sport and must choose his loyalties in the fight for a city’s future.

The anonymous narrator of this remarkable novel is a young drifter in search of his future. The son of a passionate beauty and gentle doctor, he roams the border between the United States and Mexico, eventually settling in a sleepy Baja town on the verge of transformation.

Here he learns to stand face-to-face with dogs in a makeshift ring, to fight for money and fame, and becomes involved with a powerful and corrupt entrepreneur. But when he finds friendship with a revolutionary old poet and love with a beautiful, innocent girl, everything changes. Caught between the ways of his past and the dreams of his future, he must make a devastating choice that could cost him everything.

Written with bold lyricism and magical flair, The Dog Fighter is an exhilarating tale of brutality and violence, love and wisdom, heartbreak and redemption.

Editorial Reviews

“A...novel that delivers. . . . Marc Bojanowski makes hay of high expectations.”
Dale Peck
“Remarkable…Bojanowski’s narrator has no name, but he is one of the most profoundly felt characters in recent fiction.”
New York Times Book Review
“Gripping. ... Bojanowski’s dog fighter is a Hemingway hero. ... Thoroughly absorbing.”
Chicago Tribune
“This debut novel twists into a poetic justice that delves deeper than shocking bloodletting scenes.”
Darcey Steinke
“A rare first novel — fully realized, unbelievably accomplished, and a great read. Bojanowski’s prose shimmers with nuance.”
Geoff Dyer
“The most exciting debut by an American writer since Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides…. Relentless and remarkable.”
Chris Lehmann
The Dog Fighter makes for an auspicious debut because, beyond the language gimmicks, Bojanowski vividly conjures the voice of a strong, confused soul straining against desires and limitations he only half comprehends. For all his bravado, Bojanowski's narrator gradually comes to realize that he is failing at the things that matter most in life: a reasonable approximation of love and some workable compound of right conduct and self-respect … The Dog Fighter, for all its flaws, in the literary company of other distinguished fighting novels, such as Leonard Gardner's Fat City and Stanley Elkin's Boswell.
The Washington Post
Sophie Harrison
In many contemporary books, as in many contemporary films, violence gets thrown about like pepper in a cheap Italian restaurant to camouflage blandness. The Dog Fighter is rarely guilty of this: violence is unrepentantly the novel's chief subject, and the author is unusually honest about its fascination.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Twenty-seven-year-old Bojanowski takes a hard look at death and devotion in 1940s Mexico in this provocative debut. Narrated in a confident, macho-mythic voice ("The dead mens skins had paled some in the moonlight. But more from the dark slits in their throats. Like when a fish is brought from water") by an unnamed young man, the story follows his quest to find-and prove-himself. Raised on the stories of fierce men his grandfather told him, the narrator grows up cruel and strong, unmindful of his mother and disgusted by his sensitive father. He goes to California, kills a man and is sent back to Mexico, where he finds work in Canci n, a small Baja city controlled by a corrupt businessman named Cantana. At first a worker on a Cantana construction project, the narrator falls under the spell of the dog fights, in which men, wearing a glove fitted with knives, battle dogs to the death. What begins as a search for fame and respect offers a chance to warm the narrator's heart: Cantana's stunning mistress, glimpsed in the midst of a gruesome dog fight ("Hot from the fighting and angry that I could not find her in the crowd of ugly faces I kicked the dog in the soft of its stomach"). Animal lovers and tenderhearted readers, beware. But the narrator forms a friendship with a sentimental poet, pines for the woman and tries to develop a conscience in a world that seems to have none. Eventually, of course, he must do battle with Cantana himself. Bojanowski is adept at charting the anxieties of a small city on the brink of expansion and the darkness of men's hearts. Agent, Zoe Pagnamenta. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A drifter on the U.S.-Mexican border faces dogs in the ring; a debut with buzz. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In 1940s Mexico, men fight dogs to the death, though violence isn't confined just to the ring. The narrator has no name, and, to give him a distinctive voice, newcomer Bojanowski lightly scrambles standard English syntax: The result reads like a bad translation, but at least we always understand the kid as he tells us about his childhood. His grandfather shaped his personality by reading him stories of fearless warriors and seeing to it that the boy's blood wasn't tamed by his weakling of a father. Blood, the foundation of machismo! The boy even comes close to killing his father to eradicate that weakness. Once a teenager, immensely strong and towering above his peers, he finds work in California, where he stabs another Mexican to death and is deported. In 1946, at 19, he arrives in Canci-n, a picturesque seaside town controlled by a businessman, Cantana, who has the police in his pocket. Cantana is building a big hotel to lure American tourists, but the narrator needs more than low-wage construction work. The dog fights, where the men wear claws and protective clothing, are what pay, both in money and instant fame. For all the blood and guts, the description of the ringside ritual is highly stylized as businessmen place their bets, flanked by their mistresses. Our guy wins with ease, even as he is transfixed by Cantana's mistress, whose beauty, floating out of reach, begins to consume him on his long nocturnal walks, the monthly fights no longer a preoccupation. Meanwhile, the town seethes with violence as saboteurs disrupt hotel construction. Hatred of Cantana runs deep, and our dog fighter is given an ultimatum by two old men he knows: Kill Cantana or die yourself. The dog fighter'sdilemma provides a smidgen of suspense, but it's too little, too late. A bold conception, though Bojanowski's big lug just isn't interesting enough to hold our interest.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Dog Fighter
A Novel

Chapter One

In Mexico I fought dogs. I fought on a rooftop surrounded by bougainvillea and colorful shards of broken glass. Before the fighting I waited in a small room where bloodstained ragmen came hunchbacked from shadows to wrap my forearm in a heavy rug. Over my hand they placed a glove made to have metal claws. The leather of the glove softened with the blood and sweat of each fight and with each fight the claws were made more dull. When the ragmen finished wrapping the heavy rug they led me from the small room to a ring surrounded by yelling men. On these nights the sky of Canción darkened too slow for the eyes to see. The last of the sun always in the eyes and teeth of the dogs. Reflected into the ring from the broken glass buried in the walls. When the leashes were undone the yelling men stood shaking the metal fence of the ring. I crouched in silence and waited for the dogs to bark and show their necks. And then I tore at their necks with my claws. I let the dogs bite themselves onto the heavy rug so I could better put in their eyes with my thumb. Many times I snapped the bones of the small legs with my hands. I beat them in the heads with my fists. Once when a dog took me to the ground and went for my neck I caught her by the ears and dragged my teeth down between his eyes to the end of its nose.

I was a young man when I fought dogs in Mexico. There were many dog fighters then but none as great in size or as quiet. Then I was unsure of my words. But the fighting always was a language I spoke well. And the old men of Canción the men who have known fighting for as long as there have been dog fighters to admire placed upon me their most respect. These men spoke of my fights often and the stories they told of me then they still tell today. Of this I am sure.

As a boy in Veracruz my grandfather spoiled me with bedtime stories of men fighting beasts whose teeth were sharp as obsidian shards and whose eyes were lit by fire. The old man sat on a chair by my bed and the words of the old mans stories took the flames of candles and danced over the walls of my room shadows of men who wrestled sharks and wore the teeth of jaguars around their necks. He sat with his ruined hands wrapped in quilted cotton blankets laid between two charcoal braziers. Comfortable in my bed I studied the pinched wrinkles of his mouth until my eyelids closed. Lured by his whispering each night I followed my grandfather into violent dreams of glistening snarls and musky breaths. Dreams that were always the most beautiful and difficult thing to see. And each night in his whisper the desire to hear my own name in these stories of violent men grew strong within me.

Orozco went alone into the jungle with his dog and a one shot rifle and a miners candle lit on the brim of his hat. At noon into a jungle so choked with limbs the candle flame his only light. Orozcos dog went ahead following the scent of the beast. And when he heard his dog cry and ran to it curled with its soft belly torn open over the ground Orozco slit the dogs throat to save his bullet and knew the beast was very near and not afraid of him. But Orozco also was without fear. He knew that he would have to wait until the jaguar pounced from above from one of those wet black limbs and so he pressed on farther by licking his finger and thumb and putting out the flame and chose to rest his back against the trunk of a tree in that dark to wait.

And did the jaguar come then? I begged my grandfather.

You will have to wait until tomorrow. The old man teased. Then I will tell you what became of Orozco.

When I awoke the next morning he had placed in the palm of my hand a jaguar tooth. Dipped in silver and held by a leather strap.

Can you see Orozco waiting? My grandfather asked the following night. Looking to the shadows over the walls of my room whose shape I changed with the squinting of my eyes. My grandfathers whisper a warm hiss in my ear. The silver of the tooth cool against my chest. Can you hear him listening for the jaguars claws sinking into soft wood? Can you see him searching the dark for the light of the jaguars yellow eyes?


Good. Now follow him to your dreams.

But my mother did not approve of these stories my grandfather told. And because of this he threatened always to take them from me if I ever shared our secrets with her.

I share my secrets with only you. My grandfather whispered. To everyone else I lie.

To everyone else my grandfather winked and smiled and shuffled from room to room of my fathers great house muttering to himself and scratching his head. When my mother asked for these stories I answered her only with silence. And for this my mother beat me while my father chose to read his books. But I did not care because I understood that her beating me only made my grandfather more proud and then as a boy my grandfathers stories meant more to me than my mothers happiness.

You cannot continue to deceive him. My mother yelled at her father. Our family has suffered enough.

But when my mother yelled at her father like this he only winked and smiled and shuffled from the room muttering to himself and scratching his head. And after she had beaten me always he came to my room and leaned over my bed and asked if I wanted a story ...

The Dog Fighter
A Novel
. Copyright © by Marc Bojanowski. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Dale Peck
“Remarkable…Bojanowski’s narrator has no name, but he is one of the most profoundly felt characters in recent fiction.”
Darcey Steinke
“A rare first novel — fully realized, unbelievably accomplished, and a great read. Bojanowski’s prose shimmers with nuance.”

Meet the Author

Marc Bojanowski graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and received his MFA in creative writing from the New School. His writing has appeared in The Literary Review. He lives in northern California.

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Dog Fighter 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes but she hasnt beem on ill give it up if she comes back but for right now im the dep and need to gill her spot
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Almost closed the book for good after just a few pages: the almost total, intentional lack of punctuation annoyed me. I understand the writer's intent -- making the reading as crude as the character -- but it would have read easier and been a better novel leaving the punctuation in. All-in-all, if you can adapt to the style, it's interesting and a good story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was kind of leary about buying this book but I am sooo glad that I did! It is a wonderful storyline that sounds like it could be really out there but the author brings it all together so wonderfully. I recommend this book to any book lover. You will be so amazed at this authors debut novel! I can't wait for his next.