The Covenant of Water is a compelling multigenerational family saga that takes place in India.
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
Genre/Categories/Setting: Historical Fiction, Multigenerational Family Saga, Literary Fiction, Diverse Read, India
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My Summary of The Covenant of Water:
Three generations of a family live with a strange “condition”: In every generation, at least one person dies by drowning. Covenant of Water is a story of faith, generational hardships, sacrifice, medicine, and culture.
Wow. Where to begin?
Format: First, I need to report that I listened to the audio format. Although this is not my preferred mode of reading, I wanted to hear the story as narrated by the author in an authentic voice. That part was great! However, audiobooks, in general, result in a more difficult reading experience for me for several reasons: listening is harder than reading (I lose focus quickly unless I’m driving; I can’t listen as quickly as I can read; and I can’t skim-read portions as usual). If I’m sitting, I tend to fall asleep and then it’s difficult to find my place again in audio. I spent significant time in this 30+ hour audiobook, retracing my way back to where I lost focus.
Library Loan: Unfortunately, this was a library book and I felt pressure to complete it this 700+ page tome before the return date. Normally, I would take my time with a a book of this size. Because of the narrator’s accent, I couldn’t listen faster than 1.25x speed. I knew if the library claimed back the book, I would need to get on another long waitlist. So, I really pushed myself to finish the book in the last few days of the loan period. Not the most ideal reading experience, but it was enhanced by the author’s own voice.
It’s LONG: Some portions were engaging and page-turning and other portions were not. The author’s descriptions of people and places are comprehensive! I was able to picture vividly the setting and characters and their interactions. However, I also felt like it was a bit overwritten. Did I really need all the detail? For example, I felt like the explicit medical content could have been cut down. I had to fast-forward through most of it. Medical professionals would probably appreciate this part! Although the lengthy section about the evangelistic preacher was somewhat entertaining, I felt like that entire section could have been cut.
Multigenerational: I appreciate a story that spans generations! However, the author brings in a number of other characters that caused me to wonder who was important for me to follow and invest in. Not knowing how these extra characters connected with our main family was annoying. When you reach the end, though, you will understand Verghese’s structural choices.
India: The cultural aspects were wonderfully described and communicated and a reader couldn’t ask for a better diverse read.
Who is Digby? Well, that is revealed at story’s end. However, I was tempted to set aside the book in Part II when I was pulled out of the initial storyline (family) and all I had was Digby. How does he relate to the family? Why is he important? I even started this part over again, thinking I had missed something. This part of the story and structure was the most frustrating to me and the author almost lost me. Eventually, we return to the main family. But we’re pulled away from them again and again. I endured the distractions because I was invested in the main family. All these characters do come together in the end, but it’s a case of trusting the author.
Writing: This story is considered literary fiction (as well as historical fiction). It’s character-driven with page-turning action sprinkled throughout. Some passages are beautifully written. At the story’s end, I can appreciate the structure and why the author told the story the way he did. Overall, I’m glad I read it, although there were points of frustration.
Content Consideration: child death, explicit medical content, suicide, death, grief
Recommending The Covenant of Water
You can likely understand why I have mixed feelings about my reading experience! I predict you will notice mixed reviews for this one. I’m recommending The Covenant of Water for readers who appreciate an ambitious and complex multigenerational story with heavy medical content. I suggest owning your own copy so that you can take it at your own pace.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author of The Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese
ABRAHAM VERGHESE is the Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor and Vice Chair of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine. He sees patients, teaches students, and writes. From 1990 to 1991, Abraham Verghese attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, where he obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree.
His previous books: MY OWN COUNTRY (about AIDS in rural Tennessee, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for 1994 and a movie); THE TENNIS PARTNER (a New York Times notable book and a national bestseller); CUTTING FOR STONE (an epic love story, medical story and family saga).
Verghese has honorary degrees from five universities and has published extensively in the medical literature, and his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Granta, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Verghese was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2016.
His writing, both non-fiction and fiction, has to do with his view of medicine as a passionate and romantic pursuit; he sees the bedside skill and ritual of examining the patient as critical, cost saving, time-honored and necessary, though it is threatened in this technological age. Verghese coined the term the ‘iPatient’ to describe the phenomenon of the virtual patient in the computer becoming the object of attention to the detriment of the real patient in the bed. His is an important voice for humanism in medicine and for anticipating the unwanted consequences of new technologies before they are introduced.
Have you read Cutting For Stone by the same author?
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