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Book Cover for: The Covenant of Water (Oprah's Book Club), Abraham Verghese

The Covenant of Water (Oprah's Book Club)

Abraham Verghese

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94% of readers

recommend this book

Critic Reviews


Based on 18 reviews on

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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,

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.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • Publish Date: May 2nd, 2023
  • Pages: 736
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 9.10in - 6.40in - 2.30in - 2.00lb
  • EAN: 9780802162175
  • Categories: LiteraryFamily Life - GeneralMedical

About the Author

ABRAHAM VERGHESE is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the author of the NBCC Award finalist My Own Country and the New York Times Notable Book The Tennis Partner. His most recent book, Cutting for Stone, spent 107 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. It was translated into more than twenty languages and is being adapted for film by Anonymous Content. Verghese was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2016, has received five honorary degrees, and is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He lives and practices medicine in Stanford, California where he is the Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. A decade in the making, The Covenant of Water is his first book since Cutting for Stone.

Critics’ reviews

Praise for this book

Praise for The Covenant of Water:


Longlisted for the New American Voices Award

An Instant New York Times Bestseller

Named the #7 Best Book of the Year by Amazon

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Named a Best Book of the Year by the New York Times, TIME, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, Library Journal, Apple, and Chicago Public Library

Named a Most Anticipated Book by the Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oprah Daily, Publishers Weekly (Top 10), Literary Hub, and BookPage

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

"A rich, heartfelt novel . . . A lavish smorgasbord of genealogy, medicine and love affairs, tracing a family's evolution from 1900 through the 1970s, in pointillist detail . . . What binds and drives this vast, intricate history as it patiently unspools are vibrant characters, sensuous detail and an intimate tour of cultures, landscapes and mores across eras . . . Verghese's technical strengths are consistent and versatile: crisp, taut pacing, sensuous descriptions that can fan out into rhapsody . . . Verghese's compassion for his ensemble, which subtly multiplies, infuses every page. So does his ability to inhabit a carousel of sensibilities--including those of myriad women--with penetrating insight and empathy . . . Rich and reverberant. The further into the novel readers sink, the more power it accrues . . . Grandly ambitious, impassioned . . . A magnificent feat."--Joan Frank, Washington Post

"Grand, spectacular, sweeping and utterly absorbing . . . It is a better world for having a book in it that chronicles so many tragedies in a tone that never deviates from hope."--Andrew Solomon, New York Times Book Review (cover review)

"An immense, immersive work, brimming with interconnected storylines that meander and converge like great river tributaries . . . The novel encompasses intense passion and tragedy, as well as a medical mystery . . . An essential, even healing feat of imagination, a whole world to get lost in."--Anderson Tepper, Los Angeles Times

"Much will be written about Abraham Verghese's multigenerational South Indian novel in the coming months and years. As we've seen with Verghese's earlier fiction, there will be frequent references to that other celebrated doctor-writer, Anton Chekhov. There will also be continued invocations of the likes of Charles Dickens and George Eliot to describe Verghese's ambitious literary scope and realism. Indeed, the literary feats in The Covenant of Water deserve to be lauded as much as those of such canonical authors . . . Ever the skillful surgeon, Verghese threads meaningful connections between macrocosmic and microcosmic details so elegantly that they are often barely noticeable at first."--Jenny Bhatt, NPR

"Riveting . . . This is a novel--a splendid, enthralling one--about the body, about what characters inherit and what makes itself felt upon them. It is the body that contains ambiguities and mysteries. As in his international bestseller Cutting for Stone, Verghese's medical knowledge and his mesmerising attention to detail combine to create breathtaking, edge-of-your-seat scenes of survival and medical procedures that are difficult to forget. Tenderness permeates every page, at the same time as he is ruthless with the many ways his characters are made vulnerable by simply being alive. Those scenes when a person must fight for their life make for some of the most gripping episodes that I have read in some time."--Maaza Mengiste, The Guardian

"In the spirit of his breakout novel, Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese offers an epic melodrama of medicine . . . The miraculous melds naturally with medicine in The Covenant of Water, whether in the form of artistic inspiration or religious awakening . . . Most remarkably, this depth of emotion comes across even in descriptions of surgery, which one would expect to be faceless and technical, if not merely sickening. But not so in the taut depiction of a skin graft for a burn victim or a trepanning procedure to relieve a man's swollen brain of fluid."--Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

"Over the course of three generations, two seemingly disparate, deeply connected narratives unfold in an ode to India, family, and medical marvels."--TIME

"[A] surreal and sweeping epic."--Vanity Fair

"Life unspools across seven decades, during which time Big Ammachi's loved ones suffer maladies that are treated by practitioners of both traditional and Western medicine. The novel is a searching consideration of the extent to which seemingly contrary approaches to healing can coalesce."--New Yorker, "Briefly Noted"

"Wow. This novel is long but Abraham Verghese is a master . . . A brutally intimate look at a mother's love and the power of family, The Covenant of Water will go down as a classic."--Zibby Owens, Good Morning America

"This book is gorgeous and truly immersive . . . I'm sad it's over."--Ann Napolitano, author of the New York Times bestseller Hello Beautiful

"When you come to the end of Abraham Verghese's new novel, The Covenant of Water, you will feel that you have lived among the Indian and Anglo-Indian characters who populate its pages for almost a century. It's that long. But it's also that immersive--appropriately enough for a book so steeped in the medium and metaphor of water, as the title suggests . . . These lives, so finely drawn and intensely felt, are at once singular and inextricably bound together within the immensity of fate and faith--like 'the water that connects them all in time and space and always has.'"--Ellen Akins, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Fourteen years in the making, Abraham Verghese's The Covenant of Water was worth the wait . . . A massive achievement. Rarely can such an intricate story, following a dozen major characters over more than 70 years, be described as flying by, but this one does . . . [Verghese] goes deeply into the history and culture of southern India while telling a story so engaging and lyrical it never seems academic . . . The Covenant of Water is a rousing good story, full of joy and tragedy and humor and beauty and ugliness--sometimes all at once . . . Verghese is a master at keeping these disparate characters on parallel paths that converge down the line. If you ever think he is wandering astray, be assured that he isn't. All will come together in the end in a way that may make you gasp in appreciation. Throughout, Verghese woos us with beautiful language."--Gail Pennington, Saint Louis Post-Dispatch

"Sweeping, intimate yet vast . . . Languorous and often lyrical, morally ambitious."--Priscilla Gilman, Boston Globe

"Beautiful, brilliant, and dexterously rendered . . . Characters so compellingly drawn that even now I can't stop thinking about them."--Susan Balée, Hudson Review

"Cutting for Stone fans, rejoice! Abraham Verghese is back with another grand epic that will sweep you off your feet . . . Resounding and astounding, intimate and expansive . . . Filled with shimmery, charismatic people who love deeply and dream big, The Covenant of Water is an entirely magnetic read that you won't want to end."--Al Woodworth, Amazon Book Review

"A family in Kerala, India, is affected with the Condition: Each generation one person dies by drowning. For more than 70 years Big Ammachi survives tragedy and triumph, growing from a 12-year-old bride into the matriarch as her country also comes into its own."--Kate Tuttle, People, "Best New Books"

"Ever since Cutting for Stone, we have been eagerly awaiting another book by Abraham Verghese, and what a breathtaking return this is . . . An extraordinary look at what past generations have endured for the sake of the present, Verghese's tribute to 20th century India is a literary feat you won't want to miss."--Brittany Bunzey, Barnes & Noble Reads

"Come to this epic novel by Verghese for the history of Kerala, India; stay for the devoted elephant. The bestselling author (and Stanford doctor) recounts the Parambil family's ups and downs through a century of change, interlaying some of his medical expertise but never losing his commitment to how love allows people--and sometimes beasts--to choose goodness and care over politics and brutality."--Los Angeles Times

"Breathtaking . . . The book beautifully explores the lessons we learn from our ancestors in an always changing world."--Real Simple

"Abraham Verghese is a masterful writer. Each page in this massive book features exquisite descriptions, evocations of a particular time and place, populated by fascinating characters . . . A gem of a book."--New York Journal of Books

"A novel so rich, so heavy with wisdom, authentic and fabricated history, and family stories snaking back through the years and heavy wet vines and red soil, between the stocky legs of Damodaran, the elephant who stands guard at Parambil . . . Allow yourself to become immersed in the laughter and tears, and discover the unclaimed secrets of this epic, wonderful novel."--Book Reporter

"An unforgettable journey of faith, medicine and love . . . A lush, literary masterpiece--written with a surgeon's skill and an artist's eye--that delivers a rich, emotional return on the reader's investment."--BookBrowse

"Both a compassionate family saga and an account of medicine, politics, art, women's rights, and the legacy of British colonialism in India . . . Vast in scope and also surprisingly intimate, Verghese's novel covers most of the 20th century in India, but is ultimately the story of a family--blood and chosen--caring for each other through all of life's challenges and changes."--Shelf Awareness

"Three generations of a South Indian family are marked by passions and peccadillos, conditions and ambitions, interventions both medical and divine . . . As in the bestselling and equally weighty Cutting for Stone, 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 . . . By God, he's done it again."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A literary landmark, a monumental treatment of family and country, as sprawling in scope as Edna Ferber's Giant . . . 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."--Library Journal (starred review)

"Instantly and utterly absorbing is the so-worth-the-wait new novel by the author of Cutting for Stone . . . 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."--Terry Hong, Booklist (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."--Publishers Weekly (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 Rushdie. 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."--BookPage (starred review)

"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."--Sandra Cisneros, author of Woman Without Shame

"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."--Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, author The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

"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."--Megha Majumdar, author of A Burning

"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."--Dani Shapiro, author of Signal Fires

"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."--Imbolo Mbue, author of How Beautiful We Were

"Abraham Verghese makes good on the novelist's covenant with the reader--trust me with your attention and I will reward you with a tale worth inhabiting. With a plot both deliciously languorous and breathtakingly taut, Verghese takes us on a monumental journey over generations and continents, over languages and cultures, across tendons and sinews, and through to human nature at its beating heart. It left me breathless and pining for more."--Danielle Ofri, author of What Doctors Feel

Praise for Cutting for Stone:

"A winner . . . Filled with mystical scenes and deeply felt characters . . . Verghese is something of a magician as a novelist."--USA Today

"Beautiful . . . Amazing."--New Yorker

"Verghese creates this story so lovingly that it is actually possible to live within it for the brief time one spends with this book. You may never leave the chair."--Los Angeles Times

"Tremendous . . . Vivid and thrilling . . . I feel lucky to have gotten to read it."--Atul Gawande

"Absorbing, exhilarating."--Seattle Times

"Engrossing . . . Endearing . . . A passionate, vivid, and informative novel." --Boston Globe

"The novel is full of compassion and wise vision . . . I feel I changed forever after reading this book."--Sandra Cisneros, San Antonio Express-News

"Stupendous . . . An epic medical romance, surgery meets history. Beautiful and deeply affecting."--Financial Times

"Vivid . . . Cutting for Stone shines."--Washington Post Book World

"A masterpiece . . . Verghese expertly weaves the threads of numerous story lines into one cohesive opus."--San Francisco Chronicle

"Vastly entertaining and enlightening."--Tracy Kidder

"Wildly imaginative . . . A lovely ode to the medical profession."--Entertainment Weekly

"Compelling . . . Readers will put this novel down at book's end knowing that it will stick with them for a long time to come."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Fantastic . . . Written with a lyrical flair, told through a compassionate first-person point of view, and rich with medical insight and information."--Houston Chronicle