Monday, April 17, 2023

Book Review: The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

Yes, old man, yes, eyes open to this precious land and its people, to the covenant of water, water that washes away the sins of the world, water that will gather in streams, ponds, and rivers, rivers that float the seas, water that I will never enter.

In the year 1900, at the South Indian state of Travancore, a girl of twelve is married off to a widower of forty who has a strange abhorrence to water. The girl, bought up around water and a devout Christian, survives and thrives in Parambil, when tragedy strikes and secret of a terrible curse haunting the family from centuries is revealed. Thus starts a tale spanning three generations of men and women bound by a covenant of water- the heart wrenching tale of loss, grief, anger, suffering, passion and endurance.

The Covenant Of Water is the upcoming novel written by Abraham Verghese, a Malayali doctor settled in US. I received an advance copy for reading and providing an honest feedback thanks to Netgalley and the publisher.  My primary reason to choose this novel is it being set in Kerala. There are many Malayalam novels that keep a family in its focal point and explore the social, political, cultural and economic situations of the society through its members and their relations with each other and with society. The Covenant Of Water also has a similar plot structure. But additionally there is an element of mystery that is beautifully unravelled.

The Covenant Of Water has a very simple and organic narration style which is descriptive to some extent. It is very atmospheric and to the credit of the writer, the reader can effortlessly envision the environment while reading. This factor becomes essential because geography is also an important character of the novel. The plot is pushed on by its colorful and complex characters and once acquainted, each of them make the reader invested in their motives, actions, consequences and the ultimate destiny. The plot is a huge jigsaw puzzle and it was interesting to see some of the pieces coming together unexpectedly to reveal a bigger picture.

Like action set pieces moving the story in a good action movie, medical procedures are very crucial in The Covenant of Water. The writer has passionately poured out his expertise as a surgeon on its pages. Detailed descriptions of brain surgery, complexities of child birth, skin grafting and more appear more than once. But all these forms integral part of the plot.

If I have to sum up the story of this mammoth 736 pages novel in a single sentence, 'this is an account of the effort of its characters to prevent repetition of history by breaking the cycles to which they are tied to.' Every character finds themselves to be part of a large cycle and are destined to replicate the fate of some predecessor. They are aware of it and are desperate to break the cycle and escape out of it.

The water she first stepped into minutes ago is long gone and yet it is here, past and present and future inexorably coupled, like time made incarnate. This is the covenant of water: that they’re all linked inescapably by their acts of commission and omission, and no one stands alone.


  1. 736 pages is formidable, but the story seems gripping.

  2. It's huge but review is precise without divulging much.