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The Covenant of Water summary

A Spellbinding Tale of Life, Loss, and Faith in Vibrant Kerala

4.4 (18 ratings)
22 mins
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    The Covenant of Water
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    Big Ammachi, the child bride

    The story opens in 1900 in South India. An unnamed 12-year-old girl has been arranged to marry a 40-year-old widower with a young son. On her wedding day, the frightened girl finds some solace in her Christian religion but struggles to leave behind her childhood home and memories of her beloved late father. After an emotional wedding ceremony, she travels to her new marital home, Parambil Estate.

    There, the shy young bride slowly adjusts to her new domestic duties. She’s lonely and isolated at first, yearning for her mother and to attend church services. But guided by the kind cook Thankamma, she begins to adapt to her new marital role.

    Her much older husband is initially distant and preoccupied with labor on the land. But after several years, a gentle intimacy develops between them. He begins to understand his wife’s needs, gifting her gold earrings and allowing her to attend church. The girl also forms a maternal bond with the man’s son, JoJo. Like his father, the young boy has an irrational dislike of water, preferring to climb trees instead. JoJo gives his stepmother the playful name she’ll become known as: Big Ammachi.

    By 1908, Big Ammachi’s family has grown. Her mother now lives with them at Parambil, and Big Ammachi has given birth to a daughter, Baby Mol. But soon, tragedy strikes. JoJo drowns in a ditch on the property, and the family is overwhelmed by grief.

    In the wake of the tragedy, Big Ammachi’s husband Big Appachen reveals a long-held family secret: the men of Parambil seem cursed to die by drowning. At first, Ammachi is angry at her husband for hiding this knowledge. But she finds solace in the thought that her husband’s family tree will preserve the memory of her stepson. Defiant, she challenges God to end the curse. 


    The story begins with a cruel reality for many young girls in South India at the time – an arranged marriage, meant to enhance people’s standings in a rigid caste system. Big Ammachi’s mother tells her that the wedding is “the saddest day” in a young woman’s life. Indeed, Ammachi struggles to adjust to her new reality. But she relies on her Christian faith for comfort, eventually settling into her role as the matriarch of Parambil. The tragic drowning of her stepson JoJo threatens to derail this newfound sense of stability. But Big Ammachi trusts in her devotion to God and her family.

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    What is The Covenant of Water about?

    The Covenant of Water (2023) follows a family in southern India across three generations as they grapple with a chilling affliction – the death by drowning of at least one member of every generation. Spanning almost the entire twentieth century, this masterful literary novel is a poignant tale of love and loss, chronicling the evolution of a family as well as India's turbulent passage into modernity.

    The Covenant of Water Review

    The Covenant of Water (2022) explores the mysterious connections between individuals and water, offering a unique perspective on life's essence. Here are three reasons why this book stands out:

    • Intriguing exploration of the symbolic and physical significance of water allows readers to reflect on their own relationships with this essential element.
    • Compelling personal narratives intertwined with scientific facts create a rich tapestry of stories that captivate and educate simultaneously.
    • Refreshingly original insights spark curiosity and provide a fresh take on the vital role water plays in shaping our world and ourselves.

    Who should read The Covenant of Water?

    • Fans of literary fiction interested in emotional resonance and the human experience
    • People intrigued by the traditions and everyday lives of families in southern India
    • Those fascinated by India's culture and history, especially the changes in Indian society throughout the 1900s

    About the Author

    Abraham Verghese is a physician, professor, and bestselling author known for his empathetic approach to medicine and resonant depictions of the human condition. He has held professorships at Stanford University School of Medicine since the 1990s, where he continues to teach and practice medicine. His other best-selling books include his memoir My Own Country (1995) and Cutting for Stone (2010), which has sold over a million copies worldwide.

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    The Covenant of Water FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Covenant of Water?

    The main message of The Covenant of Water is the transformative power of forgiveness and redemption.

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    Is The Covenant of Water a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Covenant of Water is a compelling read due to its gripping narrative and profound exploration of human connection and healing.

    Who is the author of The Covenant of Water?

    The author of The Covenant of Water is Abraham Verghese.

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