Abraham Verghese’s The Covenant of Water isn’t just a novel; it’s an intricate combination of emotions, histories, and profound reflections on society and the human condition. Set against the verdant backdrop of Kerala, the book invites readers to journey through time, witnessing the evolution of a family, a community, and the complex interplay of identities within a colonized society.
But as with any rich narrative, the layers run deep, prompting questions about the very fabric of human relationships, societal structures, and the vulnerabilities we shoulder.
In this blog post, we’ll be dissecting some of these themes, offering some meticulously crafted book club questions for The Covenant of Water, that aim to unearth the messages Verghese has woven into his magnum opus.
Whether you’ve read the novel or are contemplating diving in, join us as we navigate the layers of this remarkable story, probing its depths and marveling at its vast expanse.
The Covenant of Water Book Club Questions
- Throughout the narrative, water seems to have a unique significance, representing both life and death. It’s the tragic means of JoJo’s death, the backdrop of Philipose’s monumental act of bravery, and the speculated means of Elsie’s suspected suicide.
How does the novel utilize water as a symbol for both life’s uncertainties and its interconnectedness, and how do the various characters’ interactions with water reflect their personal journeys and internal struggles?
- In “The Covenant of Water,” we witness the unfolding journey of Big Ammachi, her familial ties, and the deep-seated caste divisions of her time. Her son Philipose and Shamuel’s son Joppan come face to face with the caste system when Joppan is prohibited from attending school, prompting Big Ammachi to grapple with explaining the deeply ingrained social order.
How does the book address the tension between familial affections and the divisive social structure, and how do the characters reconcile their personal relationships with the broader societal norms?
- The Parambil family curse, termed the Condition, is a looming and inexorable aspect of their lives. Yet, various characters make choices that either challenge this seemingly inevitable fate or sometimes inadvertently lead to its fruition. Considering Philipose’s attempt to abide by his mother’s warnings about water, but later succumbing to a train accident on his quest for truth, to what extent does the novel suggest that characters have agency over their destinies, and where do the boundaries of fate and free will intersect?
- Dr. Digby Kilgour’s experience epitomizes the paradox of identity in a colonized setting. He transitions from being oppressed in Glasgow to an oppressor in India, dealing with profound internal struggles in recognizing his role in the complex colonial framework.
Considering Digby’s journey, what insights does the novel offer about the intricacies of identity in a colonized land, and how do individuals navigate their roles amidst overarching political tensions?
- Big Ammachi and Elsie play profound roles in the upbringing and lives of the subsequent generations. From Big Ammachi’s protective nature over Philipose to her adoption of Mariamma after Elsie’s disappearance, maternal love and sacrifice is evident.
What commentary does the novel provide about the resilience, influence, and sometimes the sacrifices of maternal figures, especially in the face of societal expectations and personal tragedies?
- Throughout the novel, characters are depicted not primarily through their emotional and psychological growth, but more so through the biological challenges they face. Physical afflictions, hereditary diseases, and the simple act of inhabiting a vulnerable human body become central to their stories.
In light of this, how does the emphasis on the physical over the emotional shape our understanding of the characters and challenge conventional narratives of personal growth and transformation?
- Philipose’s discovery of Elsie on a magazine cover, leading to his fateful journey, and Mariamma’s realization from reading his journals, highlight the intricate ties between identity, lineage, and personal legacy. They each undergo a process of self-discovery that challenges their understanding of their family history.
Given these transformative revelations, how does the novel explore the complexities of identity in relation to one’s ancestry and the power of personal histories in shaping one’s self-perception?
- Verghese’s approach to storytelling combines a doctor’s clinical gaze with the sensitivity of a writer, emphasizing human fragility and resilience. This novel underscores the significance of literature in examining, understanding, and empathizing with the human condition.
Given Verghese’s unique perspective as a physician-writer, how does “The Covenant of Water” exemplify the power of literature to delve deep into the vulnerabilities and strengths inherent in human existence?
- Both characters showcase a blend of heroism and flaws. While Philipose saves a child with Digby’s guidance, his later actions towards Elsie reflect a more controlling demeanor. Similarly, Digby’s dedication as a surgeon is commendable, but he harbors secrets that have significant repercussions.
In light of their multi-faceted personalities, how does the novel confront the moral ambiguities inherent in human nature, and how do these characters’ virtues and vices impact the trajectories of those around them?
- The novel’s title, “The Covenant of Water,” alludes to a broader theme of interconnectedness, represented vividly by the waterscape descriptions of Big Ammachi’s home. Water, as a symbol, is repeatedly tied to the idea of familial ties that go beyond blood relations and interconnected lives through acts of commission and omission.
How does the motif of water serve as a unifying thread in the narrative, and in what ways does it shape our interpretation of the characters’ bonds and journeys throughout the novel?
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