Artfully, Verghese shapes and links successive lives through wars, monsoons, famine. Pivotal scenes are intensely physical; intimacy swept up into widescreen pageantry in the manner of Dr. Zhivago: floods, fires, pestilence, train journeys, teeming streets, far-flung characters coming face-to-face. Some of these coincidences test credulity — yet their urgency defeats doubt. Likewise, when loss and horror strike, they feel inevitable and real. 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. Writerly strokes may occasionally feel broad, but like animate oil paintings, their effect is rich and reverberant. The further into the novel readers sink, the more power it accrues ... a magnificent feat.
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 ... Verghese tends to the lyrical. But he writes with such singular detail and restrained precision that it is a pleasure to be swept along and immersed deeper. Even the characters who only appear for a few paragraphs leave lasting impressions because each is diagrammed as essential to the novel's anatomy.
Its multigenerational story progresses in the gradual, alternating fashion of a Victorian triple-decker ... The miraculous melds naturally with medicine in The Covenant of Water, whether in the form of artistic inspiration or religious awakening. One of the most moving sections concerns an expat Swedish doctor named Rune Orqvist, who is transformed by a nighttime vision and quits his practice in order to live out his days in service to a leper colony ... Such tender attention to the body—the sense that anatomy is destiny—elevates The Covenant of Water, but this is a long, elaborately plotted book and when Mr. Verghese takes off his surgical scrubs his storytelling markedly weakens ... Mr. Verghese’s portrayal of the medical practice is so stirringly noble that it seems even more critical to consider books by equally exacting standards. This strong, uneven novel fell short of mine, but only because it had moved me to set them so high.
It is tempting to look at him as a man with multiple careers running in tandem, but all his work is anchored in a consistent, profound moral architecture of the spirit ... His new nove focuses almost entirely on good people (to whom many terrible things happen), and given the complexity of human beings, the surfeit of grace sometimes feels unrealistic and even pretentious, as though the writer is affiliating himself with standards that ordinary humans cannot attain ... It is, however, grand, spectacular, sweeping and utterly absorbing. Verghese has a gift for suspense, and his easy relationship to language draws you through the narrative so effortlessly that you hardly realize you are plowing through decade upon decade and page upon page ... Verghese’s writing about all things medical is particularly adroit; his profound understanding of the human body is perhaps his greatest strength ... This is populist writing, ambitious in plot but not in character, and populated with archetypes rather than people. So, in many ways, was the work of Charles Dickens, whose crackling but now rather historical method of storytelling may be among Verghese’s inspirations.
Riveting, sprawling ... Reveals some of the contradictions of living in a colonised, segregated society ... The psychological and emotional growth that could have fostered deeper understandings and greater revelations remains unexplored. Verghese chooses instead to reckon with biological realities ... This is a novel – a splendid, enthralling one – about the body, about what characters inherit and what makes itself felt upon them ... Contains a larger question of community and belonging, one that feels most important in these days of escalating political wars and tensions: is it possible to be fragile and wounded, and still necessary and loved? The answer is rendered with care by a writer who looks at the world with a doctor’s knowing, merciful gaze.
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.'
Eighteen 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 ... he goes deeply into the history and culture of southern India while telling a story so engaging and lyrical it never seems academic ... 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.
Verghese...is that rare novelist unencumbered by the petty cynicisms of our age. An accomplished wordsmith...he conveys ineffable wonder at the tapestry of all life ... one of our most sweeping and empathic novels about medicine: Verghese writes with authority and in obsessive detail about the gut-wrenching challenges physicians such as Digby face.
Verghese, also a medical doctor, adds texture into his characters and novels with fascinating medical storylines. How does Digby’s life relate to Big Ammachi’s family? Verghese eventually ties both together in surprising ways. What causes these inexplicable drownings that have plagued Big Ammachi’s family? Whether coincidental, a curse, or scientific, Verghese does not disappoint. Words fail to encapsulate this grand, sweeping, emotional novel; it must be experienced.
Instantly and utterly absorbing is the so-worth-the-long-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.
Sprawling, passionate, tragic and comedic at turns...the second novel from Abraham Verghese, author of the unforgettable Cutting for Stone, is 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...[Verghese is]
probably the best doctor-writer since Anton Chekhov...Verghese surrounds the family with a world of unforgettable characters....All are interconnected, like the braiding waterways of Kerala. The Covenant of Water, as they say, is a lot. You won’t want it to end.
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.
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.
...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.
This new work from Verghese 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 ... 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.