The Covenant of Water
by Abraham Verghese
Hardcover- $30.00


Overall rating:


How would you rate this book?

Member ratings

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 06/01/23

  "" by skhastings (see profile) 06/15/23

  "" by LZS (see profile) 07/03/23

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 08/02/23

  "Fabulous, Lovely, and Not Long Enough" by ebach (see profile) 08/29/23

This is, in a word, fabulous. How can I adequately review THE COVENANT OF WATER to convey just how fabulous it is? This book is lovely from beginning to end. It's a big one, but, honestly, you'll wish Abraham Verghese had made it longer.

THE COVENANT OF WATER is mostly about a certain family in India, from the time a 12-year-old girl is made to marry a man in his 40s. He turns out to be a good and kind man, but he has a physical "condition" that runs in his family. This condition is real, by the way, and has a real name, but it is a mystery throughout this story.

THE COVENANT OF WATER also has another main character, a man from Scotland who comes to India to practice medicine. His story is dramatic, but after a time Verghese seems to forget about him. Don't worry (as I did), he'll be back.

If you have been wondering what Verghese has been doing in the years since CUTTING FOR STONE, here it is, one of the best books you'll ever read (along with CUTTING FOR STONE, probably).

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/10/23

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/14/23

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/14/23

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 12/06/23

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 12/24/23

  "" by bmedvid (see profile) 01/08/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/09/24

I’m not sure I can find the words to describe how beautifully written this book is. Rich colourful characters you’ll fall in love with. The book spans over 70 years and follows the lives, loves and losses of several people unknowingly connect. It’s truly a wonderful book and highly recommend.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/05/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/10/24

  "" by smithjgpl (see profile) 03/29/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/09/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/11/24

  "I wish I could give it ten stars." by thewanderingjew (see profile) 04/28/24

The Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese, author and narrator When I finished this book, I was of two minds. One was relief, because after 31 hours of the audio, I could not believe it had ended. The other was disappointment that it was over. I wanted it to go on and on. It was one of the best books I have read in a long time and the author read it with aplomb. Beginning in the early 1900’s, the reader is taken to a remote village in India called Parambil, and is introduced to the marriage of a young girl, not quite a teenager. She is being married off to a man who is almost three decades older, but she is supposed to be happy about the fortuitous match. Big Appachen, as he is called, is a widower. His first wife has died and his two-year-old child needs a mother. Thus, he needs another bride. He cannot believe that his sister arranged such a marriage, with someone who is just a child herself, but she convinces him to go through with it. Although he is kind to his new bride, he keeps his distance for many years. Still, this child, Mariamma, becomes a wonderful mother to his son Jo Jo, and eventually, she becomes a wonderful wife, as well. Jo Jo is terrified of water, a sure sign of the secret affliction the family carries. Will he suffer the consequences, as does someone in every generation? As time passes, Mariamma bears her own child, Baby Mol. She will never grow up mentally, for she is a victim of cretinism. When Mariamma was pregnant, she experienced excruciating premature contractions. She was taken to a Scotsman, Dr. Digby Kildour, a compassionate and skilled surgeon. He advised her that her body is just preparing for the birth of the child and does not alter the course of her pregnancy. It was at that time that Elsie, whose father was driving Dr. Kildour, meets him for the first time. A discussion about their hands ensues. It is a foreshadowing of many events to come. Miriamma eventually has a second child who seems quite healthy. Big Appachen insists that the boy, Phillipose, be permitted to climb, run and live, in the way that Big Appachen, as a boy, was forbidden to live. Phillipose is the hero of the community as he is bright and qualifies for an advanced education. Unfortunately, he has a hearing loss and is forced to discontinue his studies. He becomes a journalist instead, writing a column called “The Ordinary Man”. Is Phillipose suffering from the family “condition. Is he an ordinary man? The reader learns that this Dr. Digby Kildour has an unfortunate love affair with Celeste Arnold, the wife of Dr. Claude Arnold, the unfit doctor who is his superior. When Celeste dies in a fire that gravely injures Digby, he is secretly taken to Dr. Rune Orquist, a Swedish doctor who has decided to devote the rest of his life to the creation of a Leprosarium. Rune is an accomplished surgeon, skilled in restoring some function to some of the lepers, and he is able to somewhat restore the use of Digby’s hands, but not to their former prowess. He will not be able to do complicated surgeries again. At some later date, Elsie aids in Digby’s recovery by placing her hands over his. She guides his hands and shows him he can still use them to do some less sophisticated surgeries. Phillipose and Elsie married. A student and an accomplished artist, she married him when he promised to let her develop her skill and continue to produce art. Did he fulfill his promise? After the tragic and unexpected death of their only child, a son Ninan, at the hands of a tree that Phillipose treasured and so didn’t cut down, although he had promised to do so, both are overcome with anger at each other and grief. She is taken to Gwendolyn Gardens by dear friends to recover. There, she meets Digby again and a deep friendship begins. Phillipose, meanwhile, is using opium to excess, to soothe his pain. When Elsie does not return, he becomes addicted to it. During her absence, Big Ammachi kept writing to Elsie. When Baby Mol became ill, she felt obligated to return to Parambil. During that time, she discovers she is pregnant again and her daughter is born. She names the child Mariamma, after Big Ammachi. Shortly after the birth, however, Elsie disappeared and was presumed drowned. The child, Mariamma, is raised by her grandmother with the same name. Mariamma grows up to become good friends with Yelin. Shamuel is Big Appachen’s dearest friend. Joppan, his son, is Phillipose’s dearest friend. Now Mariamma is his son Yelin’s dearest friend, so the circle is complete. Because of their different stations in life, due to the unfair caste system, they are not afforded the same benefits in life, but they are still devoted to each other, helping each other whenever they can. Yelin becomes a revolutionary, a Naxalite, a Marxist fighting for the Communist cause in India. Mariamma does not support him in this effort, but the world is changing and they part. When Big Appachen died, Mariamma was called Big Amacchi and her name was lost to her. As the book follows her for about seven decades, the reader learns about the Caste System and the history of India regarding medicine and civil rights, including the advancements made. As it reveals what is considered a family curse, a genetic flaw is discovered that brings tragedy to every generation, but it may be able to be remediated as medicine advances. This story is told with tenderness and read with such a tender voice that it is impossible not to be drawn into it and to become captivated. Although, at first, it is really hard to keep track of the characters, because there are so many and the names are so unfamiliar, the author takes the storyline back and forth in time and then reunites it with each character, so their connections are revealed, albeit very slowly and carefully and with great detail. I hope I have recorded it correctly, since I have had to rewrite and correct it several times. The timelines and the places the novel takes the reader are richly described. The reader is taken to the schoolhouse with the characters and witnesses the shame of those not allowed to be educated. The reader witnesses the exhaustive medical training, the abusive treatment of young women, and also the lack of respect for widows. The reader sees the terrible way that the disabled are treated, especially those in the leprosarium. The caste system is alive and well in the early days of the 1900’s and it is ugly to witness. One hopes today there are few remnants left. Stone statues without heads, disfigured hands, disease and disability, medicine in India, the Caste system, complicated relationships, arranged marriages, inheritances, racism, injustice, are coupled with humor, kindness, true love and passion. It is infused with imagination, magic, legends and creativity. Who is Mariamma’s godfather? Why did Phillipose die? What secret did he wish to reveal? What is the significance of the tree, the beheaded statues, the hands? Why were so many of the family members, mainly men, afraid of water? Were all the deaths really related? What is finally discovered to be the real cause of “The Condition? Who helped to discover it? Verghese draws upon his background and medical training for this novel. Still, he sought the help of many talented and well-trained people so that he knits this story together with deep research into a magnificent piece of cloth with all the raised questions ultimately answered.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 05/05/24

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 06/05/24

Remember me

Now serving over 80,000 book clubs & ready to welcome yours. Join us and get the Top Book Club Picks of 2022 (so far).


Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...