Abraham Verghese is a man who fits easily on a pedestal. The author of the 101st Oprah’s Book Club pick, The Covenant of Water, is also a renowned infectious disease doctor, a professor and vice chair at Stanford University, a podcast host, a TED Talk superstar, and a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. But, in this conversation with Oprah and an audience of Oprah Daily Insiders, we see a different and more human view of the author. “People often project onto me that I’m this Pollyanna, saintly, holy character,” he says, “but I assure you, I’m not. I have many, many flaws and many regrets.”
In this remarkably intimate conversation, Verghese gets personal, answering audience questions about why he chose to address themes of sexual assault and addiction in the novel, what it was really like to be on the front line of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and how his own family history influenced his writing.
Watch the full conversation here:
Oprah hasn’t exactly been coy about her uniquely intense love for The Covenant of Water. She not only selected the novel for her book club but also personally handed out copies at a bookstore and on the beach and launched a six-part podcast series diving deep into every section of the “modern masterpiece.” But in this conversation, she goes a step further, revealing that this is one of the top three books she has ever read—and it’s safe to say she’s read quite a few books.
Set in Kerala, a tropical state on India’s Malabar coast, The Covenant of Water follows a single family through 77 epic years of national, medical, and personal history. Beginning in 1900 with an arranged marriage between a 12-year-old girl and a 40-year-old widow, the story takes readers into the fold of a family with a dark secret: In each generation, at least one person dies by drowning—a particularly terrifying condition in a region dominated by water.
This sweeping epic has it all: love, loss, redemption, glistening views, bright spices, and even, as Oprah describes, “a couple of steamy sex scenes.” Find out whether it was challenging for Verghese to write any of those details and more by watching the full conversation.
Let us know in the comments below what question you would ask Verghese if you were in the audience. Were you left with any questions after you finished the novel? To share your ideas about the book and follow Oprah’s Book Club, find us on Instagram, Facebook, or here on Oprah Daily. #ReadWithUs.
Charley is a Books Editor at Oprah Daily where she writes about authors, writing, and reading. She is also a freelance writer and audio journalist whose work has been featured in the Atlantic, the Los Angeles Review, Agni, and on the Apple News Today podcast. She is currently completing an MFA in creative nonfiction at NYU and working on an essay collection about the intersection of grief, landscape, and urban design.