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The Chaneysville Incident

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  918 ratings  ·  105 reviews
The legends say something happened in Chaneysville. The Chaneysville Incident is the powerful story of one man's obsession with discovering what that something was--a quest that takes the brilliant and bitter young black historian John Washington back through the secrets and buried evil of his heritage. Returning home to care for and then bury his father's closest friend a ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published May 23rd 1990 by Harper Perennial (first published 1981)
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3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  918 ratings  ·  105 reviews

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Tamora Pierce
Dec 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
John Washington, African-American scholar and son of a Baptist minister, comes home to his small, southern Pennsylvania town--Chaneysville--to bury his father and say goodbye to the old man who taught him about the hills and history of the area, the man he felt more sympathy with and for than his upright, moralistic father. His academic career is stalled at this time, but he feels it get a boost when he recalls his friend's tales about a group of runaway slave who reached the town, only to be bu ...more
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
I am totally perplexed by the rave reviews of this novel. This is one of those books where I wish I was better able to stop reading something that I didn't much like and just move on. But I soldiered through all 450 pages, pretty much desperate for the end the whole time.

I'm not sure what bothered me the most about The Chaneysville Incident, and how much what bothered me was related to the fact that I do for a living what the protagonist does (historian). Clearly that is part of it, because Bra
Eles Jackson
This book was very frustrating for me. I was very interested in the "story" but very and completely bored and annoyed by the extremely long tangents of history the author took you on. The reason they were so annoying is because, in my opinion, they had NOTHING to do with the plot! The author would randomly choose a time to explain the history of the city or the history of paper or some such thing. A little background of information is sometimes a good idea, but in this book, there would be page ...more
Marian Otis
Drags on and on and ....

The professor (author) forgot to leave the lecture hall before he started to write this book. Many digressions to unimportant or completely irrelevant bits of history. As a child the main characters is certainly believable and sympathetic, but he loses on both fronts as an adult who hates much deeply & without reason, is still waiting for emancipation from whitey, and uses alcohol (from, or instead of, breakfast, til he goes to bed and all points in between) as a cata
May 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
A unique book that appears to follow a different sort of history of race in Pennsylvania. While the writing style is difficult to follow at times, the overall story provides a dark yet fascinating mystery that will entice most readers.
Feb 26, 2010 marked it as to-read
Off this review:

Forgotten Histories
Feb 21 2010, 4:30 PM ET

I started off the week talking about allegory and Ralph Ellison, so it's only right that I spend a little time talking about a work that got pegged as a successor to Invisible Man. Written by David Bradley, The Chaneysville Incident hit bookshelves in 1981. At least one review compared it favorably to Ellison's signature work and the two of them share a feverish quality that comes from wrestling with the long-term historical effects of r
Kurt Keefner
Dec 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The story is a mystery within a mystery. Present-day black historian John Washington is trying to figure out what happened to his father, who died of a gunshot wound near a farm. His father, Moses, in turn had been trying to figure out something about his own grandfather, C.K., a black man who had freed himself from slavery but who disappeared before the Civil War. John will not exorcize his own demons until he solves this double-riddle.

There are deep and resonating themes in this story. There i
Dec 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is hands down one of my favorite novels, ever. While it's true that I am a bit of a modern American racial history geek, I appreciated it not simply for Bradley's impressive accomplishment in creating such a detailed and moving work of historical fiction. I read this book about a year ago, and what has stayed with me the most is how incredibly evocative Bradley's descriptions of winter are. Not since Ethan Frome (which I admit is totally depressing) have I read something which so perfectly ...more
A slowly and carefully revealed family history, pursued by the bitter and sharp protagonist, historian John Washington. David Bradley does an excellent job of uncovering the family's tragic ancestry by small degrees and measured revelations. Washington himself is difficult to like: he is cruel to everyone (including his mother and girlfriend), he admits to having raped a woman merely because she was white, he is not generous or kind or thoughtful. But after learning his story, Bradley permits yo ...more
Mar 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was a spectacular novel that perpetually engages the reader into a journey of a historian who investigates the death of his father and discovers the cause of death of his past ancestors. This is a magnificent novel for those who enjoy a well written novel that includes a rich array of history, particularly during the age of slavery and the Underground Railroad. David Bradley is a talented writer who presents a novel full of love, hate, mystery, and discovery.
Christian Schwoerke
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
I found the novel at turns exhilarating, engrossing, maddening, confusing, promising, and ultimately unfulfilled… Which is not to say it was not worth the reading, nor that it was a poor book—only that expectations I brought with me and that I perceived Bradley’s narrative had fostered did not finally pan out as I had hoped.

What Bradley successfully brings off are his characterizations of Blacks Moses Washington and his grandfather C.K. (Brobdinag) Washington, each with at least one if not both
Sep 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Hey, I would've loved it if this book sucked.

One cannot help seeing its author in its protagonist, unforgiving, yet utterly cracked and flawed to the point where one wonders why anyone would spend time and/or affection on such an unrepentant misanthrope.

One really cool thing about reading this after taking a course with Mr. Bradley: His magnum opus is modeled after Melville's Moby Dick , so you see in these pages what he means when he says "Moby Dick is a master text." Like the bible, or the di
Oct 28, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is about a lot of different things. Slaving , white people, and the struggle of a black man from a small town.
It tells of John, Johns father and grandfather . And an old man that helped John in many ways.
You feel sorry for the white woman who loves John because he won't let her enter his world or his past world. Why he won't let her is never really stated, but there is a lot in the book that isn't stated and the reader must take the clues and find his answer.
To me the book was hard t
Harriett Milnes
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-star-books
Published in 1981, The Chaneysville Incident is a very well-done novel. Bradley tells the tale of a professor in Philadelphia, who is summoned back to Chaneysville because his father's friend is dying. This friend, and his father, lived in cabins and survived on meat they had hunted. They knew about storms and snow and how to get by and survive in the woods. The professor starts to look into his father's and his grandfather's death and into his own feelings about race. Very compelling. It won th ...more
Jun 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in life
This book was amazing. I read this book in college and on the day it was assigned my professor offered to pay five bucks to anyone who finished the book and didn't love it. The entire class finished it, no one asked for five bucks. The first fifty pages or so are a bit hard to get through. But if you make it, you will be rewarded for life. I have trouble reading just about any book at this point and not comparing it to the dense enjoyment of "The Chaneysville Incident".
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read, although in a few places I became confused as to who was speaking or the subject. But I could not put the book down. It's been a long time since I've been unable to put the light out and the book down. Love it! This story is mysterious, suspenseful, and so touching. Definitely worth reading.
Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Good Read

White & African American...history and feelings...incidents and reactions...history...and hopefully for the reader, increased understanding.
Walking in another's essential to understanding, acceptance and moving forward.
Les Robinson
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: serious-shelf
This book has it all, great characters, good structure, depth and texture, and a Klan lynching foiled. Won the Pen/Faulkner, too.
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Read this novel multiple times since it was first published; each time I get something more from it. Wonderful writing, a fantastic story. Really a great American novel.
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Historical fiction is greatly underrated, I think, in terms of its importance in teaching us about the past. A story that weaves fictional characters and actions thru a fabric of historic facts and events can often give the reader a truer feel for the social and political climate of a bygone era.
I found The Chaneysville Incident to be a masterpiece of historical fiction. I came away from this read a richer and more learned person.
Nov 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Chaneysville Incident, David Bradley’s brilliant novel, begins very simply with a phone call. John Washington, a young black history professor learns that Jack, an old friend of Moses Washington, John’s father and surrogate father to John after Moses’ death, is very ill and wishes to see him.

Jack is a natural storyteller, the keeper of the oral and folk history of the community and especially of Moses Washington. John becomes obsessed with the suicide death of Moses and, after Jack’s funera
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Chaneysville Incident is historical fiction following the life of John Washington who grew up in small town in Pennsylvania in the 1950’s and 1960’s. John is a history professor who is called back to his hometown to comfort a dying man. We find out the dying man was like a second farther to John after John’s father died when he was a young boy. The author uses a lot of storytelling to reveal John’s younger years and the past of his mysterious father Moses Washington.

The book is multi-layered
David Berkowitz
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I generally read genre books - thrillers, police procedurals, SF and fantasy. But a couple times each year I choose outside those categories for something closer to "literature." The Chaneysville Incident is one of those. The novel was a National Book Award finalist when it was published in 1982.

To greatly oversimplify the plot, a professional historian is searching for answers about the death of his father. The search has been going on since he was a teenager. He learned a lot, but key answers
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read a lot of books, and sometimes even manage to comment about them here. More often that not, I enjoy most of the books I post about. This is probably because (admittedly) I look for books by authors I already know or that I have an inkling -- from word of mouth or reviews -- that I'll enjoy.

Still, you never know when you're going to read a book that you really like or that makes others pale in comparison. The Chaneysville Incident is such a novel.

I came to read The Chaneysville Incident aft
johnny w guinn
Sep 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I loved the way this was written. The he said and she said. Really we all talk that way. I lived in Southampton township. Artemis Pa to be exact. My oldest son was in kindergarten at Channysville Elementary. This was back in 1992. I became friends with a lot of the older mountain folks there. I grew up in Cumberland, these folks seemed backwards to new people on the mountain. However I understood it. My husband and I were a very young couple new to those mountains. We only lived in Artemas
Terri Weitze
OMG, it took me forever to get through this book - and I mostly like it, but I can't put my finger on the reason why.

Two things about this book I really liked - the feeling that I (as a white person) was getting an insight into the culture and history of a black American. The main character lives with and loves a white woman, but he clearly does not trust or like white people - and the book gives many explanations of why he his feelings are what they are.

The second thing that was interesting wa
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the most interesting book I have read in a long time. It has terrible flaws, too, but I was willing to forgive most of them because I found the story so compelling, so absorbing, so different from anything else I have read recently. This book takes place in western Pennsylvania, just below the Mason-Dixon line, and covers the history of the black community of a small town from pre-Civil War through the sixties. It is full of great stories, funny ones, scary ones, heartbreaking ones, and ...more
Steve Walker
For me this is the definitive "Afro-American Novel". I know everyone is sold on "Invisible Man" or "Song of Solomon". "Invisible Man" is a great novel, but it deals with the Afro-American as an idea, a philosophical construct in a Manichean society. "The Chaneysville Incident" is a realistic tale of a modern black man struggling to understand where he came from and how it shaped him. David Bradley tells the story of Historian John Washington, a brilliant scholar who is also an angry misanthrope. ...more
Aug 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I actually read this book twice. When I first read it, I was taken with the location--much of the work is set around Bedford County, Pennsylvania, which is where my mother's family came from. So many of the place names were somewhat familiar.
I was thunder-struck as the topic--former black slaves who lived in this area, and a lively escape route for slaves. The book is intricate, involving a professor in Philadelphia whose surrogate father is dying. Because of that, John Washington travels to his
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Although fictional, David Bradley's "The Chaneysville Incident" is probably the most complete description I've read so far about the tragic human toll taken by slavery in the U.S. in the years before and after the Civil War. The story covers at least five generations of the same African American family, both slaves as well as freemen, and is told in the first person by young historian John Washington as he struggles to learn and come to terms with the history of his family over their 150 years o ...more
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American author (b. 1950) and professor of creative writing who wrote South Street (1975) and The Chaneysville Incident (1981)

Full name is David H. Bradley, Jr.

Do not confuse with the other authors of the same name.

“That is what the Slave Trade was all about. Not death from poxes and musketry and whippings and malnutrition and melancholy and suicide: death itself. For before the white men came to Guinea to strip-mine field hands. ... black people did not die ... the decedent ... took up residence in an afterworld that was in many ways indistinguishable from his former estate.” 2 likes
“And so he set about restoring them, using the tricks he had learned over the years. He went to them, speaking to each of them in tones so low that none of the others could hear, getting their names, gently touching them, asking about their pains, their fears, gently eliciting their stories, reminding them of why they had run in the first place.” 2 likes
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