The Covenant of Water

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In 2012 we read "Cutting for Stone" by this author.  This seems to be his third fiction book.  At approximately 700 pages each, it is easy to understand why he has only written three books in ten years.  ("The Tennis Partner" was only half as long.)  I feel like this book could have been split into a shorter novel and a sequel.  I had a hard time remembering some of the earlier characters and their connections.  (Okay, to be honest, I was really confused and told my book club friends that I couldn't remember who the boy/girl twins were related to.  They were confused about what twins.  Later, I realized that the twins I was remembering were from "The God of Small Things" which I read just before this book, independent of book club.  It was also set in India, around the same time period and they also called their mom Ammachi and had a Gretchen Mol character instead of Baby Mol.  But still, why do we need a 700+ page book?!  Maybe he could've cut out a generation?  Or some of the medical details?  It was so long that three different times I wrote in my notes that I thought it was too long.  (I didn't even remember that I'd already made the note about the length because I'd read so many pages in between making the notes.)

Parts 1 & 2 had different casts of characters.  Part 3 starts to weave them together but also goes on tangents with new characters.  Finally, in Part 4, Ch. 34, the characters converge.

I listened to the audio for most of the book (31 hours total on audio).  It was nice to hear the words pronounced properly and read by the author.  About 2/3 through I also got the hardback.  I lost the audio rental with about 6 hours to go so I finished in hard back.  Therefore, sometimes references are chapter only (audio book) and other times page numbers are included.

On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex:  2

Religion: 4

Gruesome: 3

Suspense:  1

Morality:  4

Traditional: 3

Sex - it happens, as it should when you are dealing with a saga across multiple generations - obviously those generations have to come from somewhere.  In Ch. 3 they use spices to increase the pleasure.  A 16 y/o has sex with her much older husband for the first time after five years of marriage - the scene includes some details.  An artist describes female parts. (Ch. 10)  A man reflects on intimacy with his wife (light references). (Ch. 39)  Young newlyweds stumble through their first time. (Ch. 46, Pg. 363)

Religion - lots of examples such as: a church wedding (Ch. 2), a girl wishes for a Bible (Ch. 5), a girl fasts for Lent even though the rest of the house does not (Ch. 6)  An explanation of religion for each caste. A reference to Christmas. (Ch. 16)  A character talks to ghost spirits. (Ch. 23)  Baptism. (Ch. 23)  A doctor quotes the Bible. (Ch. 23)  A church-going woman talks to ghosts. (Ch. 25)  A man reflects on the church attendance of himself and his wife. (Ch. 39) A character refers to "The Brothers Karamazov" as his bible. (Ch. 53, Pg. 433)  Superstition, Vedism and Christianity are combined. (Ch. 53, Pg. 435)  Lots of examples in Part 7.  The idea of God speaking to people. (end Ch. 61)  "The God who never interferes with drownings or train wrecks likes to peer in on the human experiment at such moments of reckoning, touching the scene with a little celestial light." (Ch. 77, Pg. 644) Digby questions how one can still believe in God after the loss of a child but a few pages later thinks about praying to the God he doesn't believe in. (Pg. 675)

Gruesome - a child is impaled, medical emergencies and surgeries. Someone drowns in Ch. 8 - no struggle but there is mud in their lungs.  A woman hangs herself. (Ch. 10, Pg. 88) Surgery on [Sorry, I seem to have lost a word here. Perhaps I meant male] anatomy. (Ch. 13)  Goiter surgery. (Ch. 14) Gall bladder surgery. (Ch. 15)  An aneurysm. (Ch. 19)  References to 2 miscarriages. (Ch. 23) Sankar's disfigured hand. (Ch. 24)  A man performs burn surgery on himself. (Ch. 30) A character is impaled. (Ch. 49)  A fetus' hand sticking through a pregnant woman's cut belly. (Ch. 50)  Description of injuries post-beating. (Ch. 65)  A grown man remembers his mother's suicide. (Pg. 683)

Suspense - From the beginning there were things I wanted to know - like why a 40 year old wealthy man would want to marry a 12 year old (Part 1, Ch. 1), wondering if someone would survive accidents or births, wondering who a character's father is. Is a woman pregnant (Ch. 7)?  Why will she be "big mother" to one and all?  Will Jojo get hurt because he likes to climb. (Ch. 8) Why was Digby sick twice? (Ch. 11)  Uncertainty about what happened to Celeste and Digby in the fire - do they survive? (end Ch. 22)  "on a night that he will later wish he could erase" (Pg. 436) had me wondering what he would be wishing to erase specifically and how far things would go.  A breech home birth with an unconscious mother.  (Ch. 54)  A missing woman. (Ch. 56)  A premonition tells someone it is her last night alive. (Ch. 62)

Morality - There is some commentary about the caste system.  Comments on favoritism in the government. (Ch. 20)  As a divorce strategy - a husband threatens false charges of adultery, which then actually happen. (Ch. 20)  A man is drunk in the morning. (Ch. 22) A teacher is upset in front of students because they are expected to teach a low-caste kid. (Ch. 26) Opium use is portrayed as typical for male head-of-household but the character seems to know it's a problem. (Part 6)  A female student is tricked into touching a teacher's male-part. (Ch. 64)  A woman giving sisterly advice encourages an extra-marital affair. (Ch. 82, Pg. 687)

Traditional - in today's time a girl marrying at the age of 12 is very much non-traditional (Ch. 2) Digby covets a colleague's wife. (Part 2)  A woman stands up for her self-discovery.

I thought the history of the geography of Willingdon island was interesting, but it lasted only a page.  There were many more pages devoted to medical stuff which I thought got a little tedious.

Discussion Questions

Part 2 ends with a cliff-hanger.  Did you think Celeste and Digby would survive the fire? (end Ch. 22, Pg. 173)

In Ch. 25 there is a discussion of Indian nicknames (like Mol)  What are your culture's traditions regarding nicknames?  Names seem significant in this novel.  How are names important to the story?

Who was your favorite character?

Does this novel make a point about relationships - mother/child and/or romantic couples.  If so, what?  Any other relationships (man v nature, man v society, mentor/mentee)?

Who was at fault when the child got impaled?  Mom? Dad? the condition? (Ch. 49)

Ammachi tells Mariamma, "Sometimes when you feel most afraid, when you feel most helpless, that is when God is pointing out a plan for you." (Pg. 507)  Tell of a time when this was true in your life.

On the night her Ammachi died, Mariamma felt her presence even though she was far away.  (Ch. 63, Pg. 524)  Have you ever felt connected to someone far away at a significant moment?

In 1974 socialist India, there were only 3 cars licensed to be built.  Which would you choose?

"We don't have children to fulfill our dreams.  Children allow us to let go of the dreams we were never meant to fulfill." (Ch. 70, Pg. 590)   What dreams were you not meant to fulfill?

Lenin asks Mariamma, "When life is almost over, what do you want to remember?" (Ch. 77, Pg. 644)

Should every doctor learn to nurse patients? (Ch. 78, Pg. 651)

Lenin recalls the best meal he ever had.  (Pg. 653)  What is the best meal you can recall?

When Lenin said, "I'll come for you.  Be ready." (end Ch. 78), did you think he was planning to escape?

Were you surprised that there was a secret about Mariamma's parentage?  Who did you think were her parents?

Were you satisfied with the ending?  What changes would you have made in the overall story structure?

Theme Ideas

Decorate with lotus flowers and hibiscus like on the boat ride to the wedding. (Ch. 2)

Decorate with a painting that could be "Still Life with Mangoes". (end Ch. 22, Pg. 173)  Or paint one of your own or have a group painting session or art class in honor of all the artists in the book.

Decorate with yellow, red and violet roses like Digby grew and could see from his window. (Ch. 80, Pg. 670)

Decorate with an art book of statues, including Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa" (Ch. 82, Pg. 689)

Serve Indian food, mentioned in many places throughout the book including: