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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 tale of 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” April 21!


“The Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese

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1900, Travancore, South India

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

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

Soon she hears her mother’s sniffles change to steady breathing, then to the softest of snores, which in the girl’s mind seem to impose order on the scattered sounds of the night, from the wooden walls exhaling the day’s heat to the scuffing sound of the dog in the sandy courtyard outside.

A brainfever bird calls out: Kezhekketha? Kezhekketha? Which way is east? Which way is east? She imagines the bird looking down at the clearing where the rectangular thatched roof squats over their house. It sees the lagoon in front and the creek and the paddy field behind. The bird’s cry can go on for hours, depriving them of sleep … but just then it is cut off abruptly, as though a cobra has snuck up on it. In the silence that follows, the creek sings no lullaby, only grumbling over the polished pebbles.

She awakes before dawn while her mother still sleeps. Through the window, the water in the paddy field shimmers like beaten silver. On the front verandah, her father’s ornate charu kasera, or lounging chair, sits forlorn and empty. She lifts the writing pallet that straddles the long wooden arms and seats herself. She feels her father’s ghostly impression preserved in the cane weave.

On the banks of the lagoon four coconut trees grow sideways, skimming the water as if to preen at their reflections before straightening to the heavens. Goodbye, lagoon. Goodbye, creek.

Molay?” her father’s only brother had said the previous day, to her surprise. Of late he wasn’t in the habit of using the endearment molay—daughter—with her. “We found a good match for you!” His tone was oily, as though she were four, not twelve. “Your groom values the fact that you’re from a good family, a priest’s daughter.” She knew her uncle had been looking to get her married off for a while, but she still felt he was rushing to arrange this match. What could she say? Such matters were decided by adults. The helplessness on her mother’s face embarrassed her. She felt pity for her mother, when she so wanted to feel respect. Later, when they were alone, her mother said, “Molay, this is no longer our house. Your uncle …” She was pleading, as if her daughter had protested. Her words had trailed off, her eyes darting around nervously. The lizards on the walls carried tales. “How different from here can life be there? You’ll feast at Christmas, fast for Lent … church on Sundays. The same Eucharist, the same coconut palms and coffee bushes. It’s a fine matc … He’s of good means.”

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 one—he’s forty. He already has a child. A few days before, after the marriage broker had come and gone, she overheard her uncle chastise her mother, saying, “So what if his aunt drowned? Is that the same as a family history of lunacy? Whoever heard of a family with a history of drownings? Others are always jealous of a good match and they’ll find one thing to exaggerate.”

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


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“The Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese

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“The Covenant of Water” author Abraham Verghese

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