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Book fragment: “The Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese

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Dr. Abraham Verghese teaches medical students at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. But he has another calling: author. His novel “The Covenant of Water” (Grove/Atlantic), a multi-generational story about a family in India experiencing love and tragedy, was a New York Times bestseller and an Oprah’s Book Club pick.

Read an excerpt below, and Don’t miss Tracy Smith’s interview with Abraham Verghese on “CBS Sunday Morning” on April 21!


“The Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese

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1900, Travancore, South India

She is twelve years old and will be married tomorrow morning. Mother and daughter lie on the mat, their wet cheeks stuck together.

“The saddest day of a girl’s life is the day of her wedding,” says her mother. “After that, God willing, it will get better.”

Soon she hears her mother’s sniffles turn into steady breathing and then into the softest snoring, which in the girl’s mind seems to bring order to the scattered sounds of the night, of the wooden walls that keep the heat of the day exhaling to the grinding sound of the dog. in the sandy courtyard outside.

A brain fever bird calls: Kezhekketha? Kezhekketha? Which side is east? Which side is east? She imagines the bird looking down on the clearing where the rectangular thatched roof hangs over their house. He sees the lagoon in front and the creek and rice field behind it. The bird’s cry can last for hours, depriving him of sleep… but at that moment it is abruptly cut off, as if a cobra had snuck up on him. In the silence that follows, the creek sings no lullaby, but only grumbles over the polished pebbles.

She wakes up before dawn while her mother is still sleeping. Through the window, the water in the rice field glitters like beaten silver. On the front porch, her father’s ornate charu kasera, or lounge chair, sits abandoned and empty. She lifts the writing board resting on the long wooden arms and sits down. She feels that the ghostly impression of her father is preserved in the reed weave.

On the banks of the lagoon, four coconut palms grow sideways, skimming the water as if to smooth out their reflection before turning skyward. Goodbye, lagoon. Goodbye, creek.

Molayher father’s only brother had said to her surprise the day before. Lately he was not in the habit of using the endearing molay – daughter – with her. ‘We have found a good match for you!’ His tone was oily. , as if she were four, and not twelve. “Your groom appreciates that you come from a good family, the daughter of a priest.” She knew that her uncle had wanted to marry her off for a while, but she still felt that he was rushing to arrange this match. What could she say? Such matters were decided by adults and embarrassed her, her mother said: “Molay, this is no longer our home. Your uncle…’ She begged as if it were her daughter had protested. Her words were gone and her eyes darted around nervously. The lizards on the walls carried stories with them. ‘How different can life be there? You’ll be celebrating at Christmas, fasting for Lent… church on Sunday. The same Eucharist, the same coconut palms and coffee bushes. It’s a nice combination… He has good resources. .”

Why would a man of good means marry a girl of little means, a girl without a dowry? What are they keeping secret from her? What does He lack? Youth, for example: he is forty. He already has a child. A few days earlier, after the marriage broker had come and gone, she heard her uncle chastising her mother, saying, “What if his aunt drowned? Is that the same as a family history of madness? Who ever heard of a family with a history of drownings? Others are always jealous of a good match and they will find one thing to exaggerate.”

Excerpt from “The Covenant of Water” © 2023 by Abraham Verghese. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.


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