The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

This massive tome is well worth the time and effort it takes to essay its length. Covering every type of human feeling, aspiration, fear and fulfillment the narrative flows much like the water that pervades the story. Always moving, never the same, leading to an eternal sea of consciousness and meaning.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
Grove Press
Hardcover | $32
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This massive novel is a treasure of literature bound to become a modern classic. Charming, sweet and occasionally bitter, the warmth of humanity emerges from every page. The struggles of the principal characters reflect a wide variety of troubles that plague our species. Ambition, disappointment, fear of the world, fear of sequestration from the world, superstition, biological challenges, psychological and physical handicaps, jealousy, avarice, bigotry and political oppression all take part in this broad ranging epic of generations in conflict. To counter all of this there are the varieties of love; filial, romantic, platonic and the more intellectual form of love of humankind. There is little that is relative to the human condition that is not addressed in these pages.


A masterful weaving of multiple plot lines into a denouement that is at once satisfying and tantalizingly incomplete evokes a poignancy that reflects the character of the book. Themes of time and eternity symbolized by the flow of water, the universal element that ties everything in the world together and is never the same twice twin with the inevitable changes brought upon the characters by fate and their own hubris. This is countered by a loving portrayal of family life and the love that transcends generations, castes and cultures. There are echoes of the importance of religion and the consequences of abandoning faith which provide a warmth that pervades the whole in a reassuring way. Love and hate. Faith and betrayal.


A strong thread of Christian belief is a recurring theme and biblical quotes that are profoundly affecting without being dogmatic or intrusive strengthen the narrative and form a basis for much of the story. One that is repeated and is particularly moving is from Ecclesiastes 9:10 – “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” The compulsions, ambitions, aspirations and fates of several of the principles are bound up in this one phrase. The intersection of superstition, faith and art also forms much of the fuel for the compelling flow of this broad-ranging tale. Literature, painting, sculpture and culinary arts provide much of the tone and savor, grounding the text in reality in ways that engage the reader to become one of the characters as they play out their destinies. As strange and exotic as the setting may be, we recognize the feelings and fears that drive these people.


The length of this work requires a commitment of time and effort to complete, but it is not an expense: it is an investment. A perceivable gain can be felt upon finishing this extensive work and it is the feeling of this reader that this will be felt by everyone who attempts it. The serious lover of literature will not be sorry to have done so.