PODCAST

Episode 318: Abraham Verghese

BY MEGAN LABRISE • May 1, 2023

Bestselling novelist Abraham Verghese returns with a thrilling South Indian saga.

On this week’s episode, Abraham Verghese joins us to discuss The Covenant of Water (Grove, May 2), the highly anticipated follow-up to his blockbuster debut novel, Cutting for Stone (2009), which spent 107 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Verghese is an American physician, author of two memoirs (The Tennis Partner, My Own Country), and senior associate chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Stanford University Medical School. As in Cutting for Stone, medicine plays a large part in The Covenant of Water, the story of three generations of a notable family from Travancore, South India, where a massive system of interwoven waterways feeds burgeoning communities, dictating life and death.

Here’s a bit from Kirkus’ starred review of The Covenant of Water: “Verghese’s narrative mirrors the landscape it is set in, a maze of connecting storylines and biographies so complex and vast that it’s almost a little crazy. But as one of the characters points out, ‘You can’t set out to achieve your goals without a little madness.’ The madness begins in 1900, when a 12-year-old girl is married off to a widower with a young son. She will be known as Ammachi, ‘little mother,’ before she’s even a teenager. Her life is the central stream that flows through the epic landscape of this story, in which drowning is only the most common of the disastrous fates Verghese visits on his beloved characters—burning, impaling, leprosy, opium addiction, hearing loss, smallpox, birth defects, political fanaticism, and so much more, though many will also receive outsized gifts in artistic ability, intellect, strength, and prophecy.…What a joy to experience the exquisite, uniquely literary delight of all the pieces falling into place in a way one really did not see coming.”

Verghese and host Megan Labrise talk about one of the novel’s epigraphs, from Rabindranath Tagore: “Not hammer-strokes, but dance of water, sings the pebbles into perfection”; how poetry may influence fiction; human intervention in the natural world; hubris as a tragic flaw; and the character who will become known as Ammachi. Verghese reads aloud from the book, which leads to a discussion of family secrets; why the book is told in 10 parts; the illustrations that adorn each section; whether he considers The Covenant of Water a love story; why physicians must learn bedside medicine; and much more.

And in a sponsored interview, Megan welcomes Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Chain-Gang All-Stars (Pantheon, May 2), the electrifying debut novel from the author of the critically acclaimed story collection Friday Black. Kirkus: “Imagine ‘The Hunger Games’ refashioned into a rowdy, profane, and indignant blues shout at full blast” (starred review).

Then editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, and Laurie Muchnick share their top picks in books for the week.

 

Editors’ picks:

Nigeria Jones by Ibi Zoboi (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris (Knopf)

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin (Ballantine)

 

Also mentioned on this episode:

Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon (Candlewick)

The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy (Henry Holt)

Orphan Island by Laurel Synder (Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins)

 

Thanks to our sponsors:

Beginning of Arrogance by Bryan Cole

Shotgun Johanna by R.M. Burgess

A Few Murders in My Neighborhood by Henry Olek

Hyde and Zeke: Cutie and the Beast by Josh Langston

 

 

Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.

 

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