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The Covenant of Water (Oprah's Book Club)
Cover of The Covenant of Water (Oprah's Book Club)
The Covenant of Water (Oprah's Book Club)

OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB PICK • INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • SUBJECT OF A SIX-PART SUPER SOUL PODCAST SERIES HOSTED BY OPRAH WINFREY

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, following three generations of a family seeking the answers to a strange secret

"One of the best books I've read in my entire life. It's epic. It's transportive . . . It was unputdownable!" — Oprah Winfrey, OprahDaily.com

The Covenant of Wateris 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.

OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB PICK • INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • SUBJECT OF A SIX-PART SUPER SOUL PODCAST SERIES HOSTED BY OPRAH WINFREY

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, following three generations of a family seeking the answers to a strange secret

"One of the best books I've read in my entire life. It's epic. It's transportive . . . It was unputdownable!" — Oprah Winfrey, OprahDaily.com

The Covenant of Wateris 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.

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  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2022

    Following 2009's Cutting for Stone, which sold over 1.5 million copies in the United States alone, practicing physician Verghese's new work unfolds within the Christian community of Kerala, on southern India's Malabar Coast. At its heart is a family that suffers successive tragedies, with at least one person in each generation drowning to death. Despite its venerable traditions--the community supposedly dates from the time of the apostles--family matriarch Big Ammachi (i.e., "Big Mother") knows change is coming.

    Copyright 2022 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 27, 2023
    Verghese’s breathtaking latest (after Cutting for Stone) follows several generations of a South Indian family as they search for the roots of a curse. The watery setting of Travancore (later Kerala) is described in dreamlike terms, with “rivulets and canals, a latticework of lakes and lagoons, a maze of backwaters and bottle-green lotus ponds.” There, a member of the Parambil family has drowned in each of the last three generations. The story begins in 1900 when a 12-year-old girl, who becomes known as Big Ammachi, marries a 40-year-old widower with a two-year-old son, JoJo. Big Ammachi sees the curse firsthand after discovering JoJo drowned at 10 in an irrigation ditch. At 16, she gives birth to Baby Mol, a daughter gifted with prophecy, and then to a son, Philipose, who becomes a newspaper columnist and marries Elsie, a beautiful and talented artist. They live in Big Ammachi’s loving home with their son, Ninan, until an accident sends the couple reeling. Philipose becomes an opium addict and Elsie returns to her family, but they reunite briefly and have a daughter, Mariamma, until another tragedy leaves newborn Mariamma motherless. A parallel narrative involves Scottish surgeon Digby Kilgour, who runs a leprosarium, and by the end, Verghese perfectly connects the wandering threads. Along the way, Mariamma becomes a neurosurgeon and seeks the cause of the drownings, and the author handily depicts Mariamma’s intricate brain surgeries and Kilgour’s skin graft treatments, along with political turmoil when the Maoist Naxalite movement hits close to home. Verghese outdoes himself with this grand and stunning tribute to 20th-century India. Agent: Mary Evans, Mary Evans Inc.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from February 15, 2023
    Three generations of a South Indian family are marked by passions and peccadillos, conditions and ambitions, interventions both medical and divine. "Where the sea meets white beach, it thrusts fingers inland to intertwine with the rivers snaking down the green canopied slopes of the Ghats. It is a child's fantasy world of rivulets and canals, a latticework of lakes and lagoons, a maze of backwaters and bottle-green lotus ponds; a vast circulatory system because, as her father used to say, all water is connected." Verghese's narrative mirrors the landscape it is set in, a maze of connecting storylines and biographies so complex and vast that it's almost a little crazy. But as one of the characters points out, "You can't set out to achieve your goals without a little madness." The madness begins in 1900, when a 12-year-old girl is married off to a widower with a young son. She will be known as Ammachi, "little mother," before she's even a teenager. Her life is the central stream that flows through the epic landscape of this story, in which drowning is only the most common of the disastrous fates Verghese visits on his beloved characters--burning, impaling, leprosy, opium addiction, hearing loss, smallpox, birth defects, political fanaticism, and so much more, though many will also receive outsized gifts in artistic ability, intellect, strength, and prophecy. As in the bestselling and equally weighty Cutting for Stone (2009), the fiction debut by Verghese (who's also a physician), the medical procedures and advances play a central role--scenes of hand surgery and brain surgery are narrated with the same enthusiastic detail as scenes of lovemaking. A few times along this very long journey one may briefly wonder, Is all this really necessary? 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. As Ammachi is well aware by the time she is a grandmother in the 1970s, "A good story goes beyond what a forgiving God cares to do: it reconciles families and unburdens them of secrets whose bond is stronger than blood." By God, he's done it again.

    COPYRIGHT(2023) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from March 15, 2023
    Instantly and utterly absorbing is the so-worth-the-long-wait new novel by the author of Cutting for Stone (2009). Spanning 70 years, it opens with the 1900 marriage of a 12-year-old girl to a 40-year-old widower with a young child. The couple belong to India's Saint Thomas Christian community, descendants of St. Thomas' converts after his arrival in present-day Kerala almost two millennia prior. While toddler JoJo immediately accepts the bride as his mother, the groom maintains a watchful distance until she is ready for a husband. She matures into Big Ammachi, the beloved matriarch of Parambil, the family's 500-acre estate. She births two children, a daughter who never outgrows a five-year-old's delight and a son whose wanderings finally bring him home to stay. Always looming is "the Condition," a mysterious history of drowning that claims a victim in every generation. Meanwhile, in faraway Glasgow, orphaned Digby becomes a doctor against impossible odds and escapes his tragic past to become a privileged white man in British India. His trajectory as a promising surgeon, estate owner, and gentle caretaker inevitably overlaps with many of Parambil's inhabitants. 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.

    COPYRIGHT(2023) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2023

    This new work from Verghese (Cutting for Stone) is not just a novel; it is a literary landmark, a monumental treatment of family and country, as sprawling in scope as Edna Ferber's Giant. The story spans over 70 years and three generations of a family living in Kerala on the western coast of India, a place where water has as much significance as land. But for this family, water is also a curse; in each generation, one family member has died by drowning, and the fear of water looms ominously. The story begins with the awkwardness of the arranged marriage of 12-year-old Mariamma--later known as Big Ammachi (Big Mother)--to a man 40 years her senior, an arrangement with which neither bride nor groom is happy at first. But as time passes, the couple adjusts, and a deep love infuses their union and the generations that follow. Big Ammachi oversees her family with patience and wisdom, remaining present even after death. VERDICT Writing with compassion and insight, Verghese creates distinct characters in Dickensian profusion, and his language is striking; even graphic descriptions of medical procedures are beautifully wrought. Throughout, there are joy, courage, and devotion as well as tragedy; always there is water, the covenant that links all.--Michael F. Russo

    Copyright 2023 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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