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Reviews of The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

The Covenant of Water

by Abraham Verghese

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese X
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
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  • Published:
    May 2023, 736 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner: BookBrowse Fiction Award 2023

From the New York Times–bestselling author of Cutting for Stone comes a stunning and magisterial epic of love, faith, and medicine, set in Kerala, South India, and following three generations of a family seeking the answers to a strange secret

The Covenant of Water is the long-awaited new novel by Abraham Verghese, the author of the major word-of-mouth bestseller Cutting for Stone, which has sold over 1.5 million copies in the United States alone and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years.

Spanning the years 1900 to 1977, The Covenant of Water is set in Kerala, on South India's Malabar Coast, and follows three generations of a family that suffers a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning—and in Kerala, water is everywhere. At the turn of the century, a twelve-year-old girl from Kerala's long-existing Christian community, grieving the death of her father, is sent by boat to her wedding, where she will meet her forty-year-old husband for the first time. From this unforgettable new beginning, the young girl—and future matriarch, known as Big Ammachi—will witness unthinkable changes over the span of her extraordinary life, full of joy and triumph as well as hardship and loss, her faith and love the only constants.

A shimmering evocation of a bygone India and of the passage of time itself, The Covenant of Water is a hymn to progress in medicine and to human understanding, and a humbling testament to the difficulties undergone by past generations for the sake of those alive today. It is one of the most masterful literary novels published in recent years.

Excerpt
The Covenant of Water

1900, Travancore, South India


She is twelve years old, and she will be married in the morning. Mother and daughter lie on the mat, their wet cheeks glued together.

"The saddest day of a girl's life is the day of her wedding," her mother says. "After that, God willing, it gets better."

Soon she hears her mother's sniffles change to steady breathing, then to the softest of snores, which in the girl's mind seem to impose order on the scattered sounds of the night, from the wooden walls exhaling the day's heat to the scuffing sound of the dog in the sandy courtyard outside.

A brainfever bird calls out: Kezhekketha? Kezhekketha? Which way is east? Which way is east? She imagines the bird looking down at the clearing where the rectangular thatched roof squats over their house. It sees the lagoon in front and the creek and the paddy field behind. The bird's cry can go on for hours, depriving them of sleep ... but just then it is cut off abruptly, as though a ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The Covenant of Water begins in South India at the turn of the twentieth century on the eve of an arranged marriage. Initially, the young bride and her much older husband are nameless, while those around them are named. What effect does this create in your introduction to the main characters and how they evolve over time? When the bride is bequeathed the name "Big Ammachi" (p. 64) by her stepson, how does she grow into her title?
  2. Big Ammachi finds out about "the Condition" that runs through her new family by means of dramatic tragedy, even though her husband and JoJo's aversion to water was evident early on. What impact do the circumstances of "the Condition" have on the decisions each generation makes for their future?
  3. In what ways ...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2023

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Winner: 2023 BookBrowse Fiction Award

Verghese sustains this massive story with numerous enigmatic and vividly drawn characters like Big Ammachi, Digby, a Swedish physician named Rune who runs a colony for lepers, Philipose and his love Elsie, who is born to be an artist of staggering genius if only the world will let her. However, running like a riptide beneath the waters of the Malabar Coast, the Condition strikes the family in new, unbidden and heartbreaking ways. It will reach a crescendo with Mariamma, Big Ammachi's granddaughter, who becomes a neurosurgeon to unlock the secrets of this affliction, only to face the secrets "that can bind them together or bring them to their knees when revealed."..continued

Full Review (802 words)

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(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

NPR
Whether describing the spice craze sweeping across Europe, Kerala's breathtaking coastal views, the overpowering Madras evening breezes, or the lively Anglo-Indian enclaves, Verghese tends to the lyrical. But he writes with such singular detail and restrained precision that it is a pleasure to be swept along and immersed deeper.

Booklist (starred review)
Instantly and utterly absorbing... Verghese—who gifts the matriarch his mother's name and even some of her stories—illuminates colonial history, challenges castes and classism, and exposes injustices, all while spectacularly spinning what will undoubtedly be one of the most lauded, awarded, best-selling novels of the year.

BookPage (starred review)
A masterpiece. Put it on your bookcase next to A Passage to India by E.M. Forster or anything by the brave and brilliant Salman Rushie. Indeed, put it next to any great novel of your choice. Sprawling, passionate, tragic and comedic at turns ... Verghese, probably the best doctor-writer since Anton Chekhov, upends all of our expectations ... You won't want it to end.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
What a joy to say it is, to experience the exquisite, uniquely literary delight of all the pieces falling into place in a way one really did not see coming ... By God, he's done it again.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Breathtaking ... By the end, Verghese perfectly connects the wandering threads ... Verghese outdoes himself with this grand and stunning tribute to 20th-century India.

Author Blurb Dani Shapiro, author of Signal Fires
This majestic, sweeping story of family secrets—their curse, their legacy, and their cure—is intimate and profound. Abraham Verghese takes us on a journey across nearly a century and more than one continent, all the while dazzling with his rich, elegant prose. Verghese is a literary legend at the height of his extraordinary powers.

Author Blurb Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, author The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
From the very first page of Abraham Verghese's The Covenant of Water, I was overtaken with joy. Truly, I caught my breath, absorbing such beauty. What a sure faith this novel is—what an agreement with language. What a glorious story of land and family. What a brilliant path written across generations.

Author Blurb Imbolo Mbue, author of How Beautiful We Were
A novel of utter beauty, The Covenant of Water is worthy of all praise in its depiction of medical ingenuity and family love; it is epic and eye-opening, the sort of story that only a singular mind like Abraham Verghese's could have woven.

Author Blurb Megha Majumdar, author of A Burning
The Covenant of Water is a brilliant novel, one I feel lucky to experience. It is enthralling; its conjured worlds vigorous and astonishing; its characters so real they call me back to their lives. I wanted to read this book for whole days and nights, and do little else.

Author Blurb Sandra Cisneros, author of Woman Without Shame
Reading The Covenant of Water I felt as if I'd been plunged into an atmosphere thicker than air, or as if I was swimming in a sea of stories, each more intense and unforgettable than the last.

Reader Reviews

Sruthi

The masterpiece
Abraham Verghese's storytelling is captivating. As I listened to him read his story, I felt like I was there with his characters, watching and hearing everything first hand. His use of appropriate accents for his characters added to the realism. ...   Read More
Divya Ann Mathew

: A Poignant Journey Through Generations -
Abraham Verghese's "The Covenant of Water" is a mesmerizing tapestry of time, family, and the omnipresence of water in the lush landscapes of Kerala. This long-awaited novel, following the author's acclaimed "Cutting for Stone," delves into the ...   Read More
Aswin

The covenant of water
The Malayalam language, joins all beliefs. The humor is scornful and very Malayali- - the Maramon Show, which has an American evangelist to silly outcomes, is one such section. The narrating is of the best kind, liberated from any unnecessary ...   Read More
Steven

Covenant of Water
Stunning in scope and intensity transporting the reader to far of lands and culture with exquisite detail all explored through vivid and intimate character developments. A wonderful read.

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Beyond the Book

Saint Thomas Christians

Inside of a Saint Thomas Christian church with view of an altar and wall decorated with elaborate gold and multicolored designs One of the overarching themes in Abraham Verghese's The Covenant of Water is faith, in all its various guises. For the character Big Ammachi and her family, it is their proud history as Saint Thomas Christians that sustains them in their bleakest hours.

The novel refers to the legend of Saint Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, landing in 52 CE along the Malabar Coast, in the modern-day state of Kerala. He is believed to have converted a few Brahmin (high-caste Hindu) families to Christianity, and Verghese writes that those first converts, Saint Thomas Christians, "stayed true to the faith and did not marry outside their community. Over time they grew, knitted together by their customs and their churches."

In 1498...

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