Experience in medicine influenced my writing, says 'The Covenant of Water' author Abraham Verghese

Dr Abraham Verghese (L) speaks about his latest book 'The Covenant of Water' during an interactive session moderated by Ashika Mathew (R). Photo: Manorama

Kottayam: A person who looks at the society with compassionate eyes can become a good writer, Dr Abraham Verghese, the best-selling author of 'The Covenant of Water', said here on Friday. He was speaking at an event organised by the Malayala Manorama.

“The New York Times' review of my book says the characters in my book were almost unrealistic because of their goodness. But I believe that it is important to observe the society with compassionate eyes to become a good writer,” he said.

Dr Abraham Verghese, who is also the vice-chair of the Stanford University's School of Medicine, said his experience in medicine greatly helped in his writing. “I always make a note of intriguing, rare medical conditions as part of my profession. The premise of the story and the 'condition' affecting different generations of the Parambil family was derived from one of these medical conditions,” he said.

'The Covenant of Water' is a multi-generational epic family saga, set between 1900 and 1977 in Kerala. The protagonist in the novel 'Big Ammachi', the 12-year-old girl who married a 40-year-old widower and went on to become a powerful matriarch, is inspired by Dr Verghese's grandmother who married very early in her childhood.

"When my mother was in her 70s my niece asked her -- What life was like when you were a little girl? My mother was so taken aback by the question that she decided to write down little anecdotes from her childhood to help my niece understand how different her grandmother's life had been. I decided that I want to set my second novel in Kerala when I found this beautiful hundred-page document written by her," the author said. Dr Verghese added that his mother was delighted to help him with the book and that she would often ring him up to recount anecdotes from her childhood.

The author added that the unique landscape of Kerala also inspired him. He named the book 'The Covenant of Water' due to the importance water and water bodies held in a Keralite's life.

When asked about the strong women characters in his book, Dr Verghese said it was wonderful that many women from the past generation showed extraordinary courage with their faith and heritage despite being confined to their homes.

The event, 'An Evening with Dr Abraham Verghese', also included a book reading by the author besides an interaction moderated by Ashika Mathew.

D Verghese has written two memoirs and two novels -- My Own Country: A Doctor's Story (1994), The Tennis Partner (1998), Cutting for Stone (2008) and The Covenant of Water (2023).

'The Covenant of Water', which has featured on Oprah’s Book Club selection, is on The New York Times and National Indie best-seller lists. Manorama Books will be releasing the Malayalam translation of the book next year.

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