The Covenant of Water: A Chevron Ross Book Review

By July 5, 2024No Comments

What is the connection between an adolescent Indian girl, and a Scottish doctor at a leper colony? You have to read a long time to find the answer, but author Abraham Verghese provides plenty of drama along the way in his novel The Covenant of Water.

The story begins in the year 1900 in southern India, where an impoverished widow betroths her daughter—whose name we never learn—to a middle-aged farmer. As their family grows, the girl learns that the farmer’s ancestry carries a curse involving water.

Meanwhile, Scotsman Digby Kilgour leaves his native land to work in the Indian Medical Service. A series of terrible incidents involving the hospital’s chief surgeon leads Digby to practice medicine at a leprosarium. It is at this point that relationships between Digby and the farmer’s family take root over the course of three generations.

What moves this story along is a combination of fascinating cultural developments, medical procedures, and stories of personal growth. The adolescent girl becomes Big Ammachi, the matriarch whose sorrows and joys center on a beloved stepson and two children of her own. As time passes new relationships develop, some joyful, others tragic, as the water curse looms over the family.

Digby’s story is also tragic as one shattered romance leads to a new one that might never have occurred but for a careless moment in which Big Ammachi’s son Philiposte makes a rash promise to his bride.

Verghese provides dramatically detailed accounts of surgical crises and agonizing childbirths that remind us how often ordinary people perform acts of heroism. Digby’s patients, the poorest in the nation, suffer from crippling and disfiguring ailments rarely seen in lands where proper nutrition and modern healthcare are available.

The cultural background of India is an important factor in a country where a thousand Brits rule over a million natives. Within this hierarchy is another in which wealthy Indians dominate the poor, the least of whom they consider “untouchables.”

Verghese’s novel binds together many characters, from the idealistic young seminarian who becomes a terrorist, to the tragic young sculptor whose work defines her. There are so many characters that I forgot who some of them were. But it didn’t diminish my appreciation of the saga. As Big Ammachi tells her granddaughter, “God loves stories. God lets each of us make our own story with our lives. Yours will be unlike anyone else’s.”

The Covenant of Water contains some offensive language and explicit sexual activity. For this reason I have limited my rating to four stars.

Featured by Chevron Ross

Follow these links for more about the Chevron Ross novels

     Weapons of Remorse    The Seven-Day Resurrection   The Samaritan’s Patient

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