The Covenant of Water is a novel by Abraham Verghese that follows a family in southern India over three generations, from 1900 to 1977. The family suffers from a peculiar affliction where at least one person in every generation dies by drowning. In Kerala, on South India’s Malabar Coast, where the story is set, water is everywhere and plays a central role in the lives of the characters. The novel explores the themes of family, love, loss, and the human condition, and is described as a grand epic that will sweep readers off their feet.
The story begins with a twelve-year-old girl, known as Big Ammachi, who is given in an arranged marriage to an older man with property and land. The novel follows her life and the lives of her descendants, as they navigate the challenges of living in a world where water is both a source of life and a source of danger. The characters are vividly drawn, and their struggles and triumphs are portrayed with sensitivity and depth.
Throughout the novel, water is a powerful symbol that represents both life and death, renewal and destruction. The family’s affliction with drowning is a metaphor for the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. At the same time, water is a source of renewal and cleansing, as seen in the biblical reference to a “covenant of water” in which God sprinkles clean water upon his people as a means of cleansing.
Verghese’s writing is praised for its beauty and evocative power. Critics describe the novel as “resounding and astounding, intimate and expansive” and “enthralling; its conjured worlds vigorous and astonishing; its characters so real they call me back to their lives”. The novel has been compared to Verghese’s previous work, Cutting for Stone, and is said to be just as compelling and masterfully written.
Overall, The Covenant of Water is a rich and complex novel that explores the human experience through the lens of a family’s struggles with water. It is a powerful and moving work of fiction that will resonate with readers long after they have finished reading it.
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Grove Press UK
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