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The Covenant

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  18,976 ratings  ·  427 reviews
James A. Michener’s masterly chronicle of South Africa is an epic tale of adventurers, scoundrels, and ministers, the best and worst of two continents who carve an empire out of a vast wilderness. From the Java-born Van Doorn family tree springs two great branches: one nurtures lush vineyards, the other settles the interior to become the first Trekboers and Afrikaners. The ...more
Paperback, 1238 pages
Published March 1982 by Fawcett Crest (first published January 1st 1980)
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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 ·  18,976 ratings  ·  427 reviews

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I never believed I could understand the complicated, bloody, perplexing history of South Africa. Leave it to Michener to prove me wrong. This was published in 1980. I wish Jimmy was still around to provide a follow-up from 1980 to the present.
1235 pages! And it only took me 8 1/2 weeks. This is my big accomplishment for the year. It may even be the longest book I've ever read. If I don't get through anything else on my 2011 challenge shelf, that will be okay.
Oct 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite Michener. The story behind South Africa. And when I say behind, that is truly Michener's style. He starts with the beginning of time, how the earth was formed, the first people to populate the area, and on to the present day. An incredible amount of information, but entertaining to read as he masterfully follows several families whose lives cross again and again over centuries.

Johnny D
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I promised myself when I considered writing a review of this gigantic tome ...

Woah there buddy, isn't it a little redundant to be calling a tome gigantic? If it's a tome it is gigantic by its very definition, or are you saying that it's especially large, even for a tome?

Alright, so when I was considering writing a review of this tome, I made a promise to myself not to use the word epic.

Newsflash, genius, you are writing a review and you just used the word epic. Mission failed, promise to self
Allison Corin
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a difficult book to review. As with all Michener books, it is well researched and written.

Anytime I recommend one of his books, I must verify that the intended reader loves history, loves reading, and is willing to hunker down and delve through slow stories to enjoy the incredible wealth of knowledge that can be gained from his stories. The covenant is no different. To read this story takes a level of patience and desire that most books, even most historical novels, do not require.

Jonathan Dunsky
Nov 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Michener's epic book on South-Africa. It tells the story of that land from the early settlements by the Dutch, through the expansion of it by English immigrants and others, to the South-Africa of the Apartheid age, shortly before it was eliminated.

The tumultuous and violent history of South-Africe is told with Michener's careful research and adherence to detail. The people and their struggles and the values that drove them enrich the story and add the personal touch to the sweeping changes
Blaine DeSantis
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I admit, I am a Michener fanatic! I read this book when it first came out and so much of it just stuck with me over the years that I decided to reread it. First of all, 1240 pages! Wow, wow, wow!!! Michener crams this book with outstanding usage of the history of the county and then blend his fictitious families to be part of those events. Did a ton of fact-checking as I went along and he was spot on with his history - having the internet made it easy for me to do this. He allows us to see ...more
Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A bible of a book - both in terms of size and contents - that retells the history of South Africa through the stories of both fictitous and historic characters. A truly ambitious endeavour in true Michener style, which had a profound effect on me when I read it at the age of 16 - and still does! The book ends in the 1980s, and I am still amazed at Micheners insight into the shaping of post-apartheid South Africa. ...more
Sally Seymore
This is not a new book, but I'm glad I've found it as James Michener is a master storyteller. In history classes we were taught drips and drabs of our history, so it was interesting to see how it all fits together. This historical novel is obviously based on fact, but the author's own storyline is cleverly interwoven. It gives one a comprehensive account of how South Africa came into being, the different role players involved as well as the dynamics of this multi-cultural and multi-faceted ...more
Mar 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was very interesting to read this book which ended in 1980. As of 2009 we can now look back at what happened to South Africa and it is wonderful to see that of the 2 scenario's that Michener thought most likely the (relatively) bloodless one emerged. I especially enjoyed his section on South Africa under apartheid. It is a reminder to me of how stupid, brutal and ineffective it was a system. The whites now like to complain about Affirmative Action and BEE but looking at the system that we put ...more
Jacques Bezuidenhout
tl;dr - Read the book, don't listen to the audio

I listened to the Audiobook (if you can even call it that).
It is actually a 1993 tape recording with a monotonous narrator that cannot pronounce a single word related to the Dutch, Afrikaners, Xhosa, Zulu.
Being about 60 hours of audio, it gets a bit tedious being told to reverse, or turn the tape around every 30 minutes.
And if the narrator wasn't bad enough on his own, you had this static (sea shell) type background throughout the whole book.
Christine Ward
Nov 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The last time I read this book was about six years ago, and I remember thinking that Michener was overly sympathetic to the Afrikaners, and thus, to their cause - apartheid. Finding that morally repugnant, I decided I was done with this book and done with Michener.
Currently, I'm experiencing a Michener-revival, and after watching "Invictus", thought I'd give this book another try.
Like all Michener books, this is incredibly well-researched, and very involved, with characters that span hundreds
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I bought this book for 50 Cents in one of the nicest book stores ever. Too bad it's in Gold Beach, Oregon.
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A panoramic novel, spanning centuries, where the tragic heroine is Mother South Africa, whose children are unable to live together in peace. I wish my school history books had been written like this, with the insertion of fictional characters to bring story and life into what is normally a dull narrative.

After a preface on the early Bushman who inhabited the land since pre-historic times, the story follows the lineage of the Afrikaner Van Doorn, English Saltwood and Zulu Nxumalo families, from
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars
When I realized this was a formidable book of almost 1200 pages I postponed reading it for several weeks. Once I started it I was fascinated by the brutal and bloody history of this beautiful country.The story is told through the lives, actions and beliefs of three extended, multigeneration families,( fictional but with some actual events) and gave me more insight as to how the reviled system of apartheid came to be. There is an Afrikaaner family (an amalgamation of mainly Dutch,
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
BORING! My dad gave me this book before I left the U.S. to study in South Africa. I got a third of the way through before finally giving up. I love to read and rarely stop reading in the middle, but I found it very difficult to commit to The Covenant. The history is interesting and useful and has been a good companion to my travels in this country, but ultimately the characters are one-dimensional, and the stories seem forced, rather than developing in an organic way. The author seemed more ...more
Augusto Bernardi
Great summary of the history of South Africa. It's a learning experience and wish I had read James A. Michener's books in high school history class. One thing that particularly stood out for me was that the truly violent and horrific events in the book weren't from the people I thought they were gonna be from. WE forget some parts of history sometimes. Having said all that though, I did not like that you could not connect with ANY characters in the book. By the end of the chapter, the character ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Religion (destroy?) vs. Education (enlighten?)
Old and New Testament, Paganism - in evolution and civilization
Art and War - in remembrance, progression and humanity

I'm less a history buff than a fiction aficionado, not equipped to verify or criticize the historical facts and associated reasoning. I immersed in the ocean of millennial saga, surrender to his craft, not getting drowned but in fascination.
Less words given to blacks (and colored) than to whites, but they are the ones who
Nancy Chappell
Dec 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I know some consider Michener a lightweight - in fact I don't know anyone else who enjoys reading him - but I have enjoyed learning a bit more about complicated social histories of a particular area. Piecing together the history of the Xhosa, Zulu and other natives in southern African, as well as the Dutdh and English colonisers was very interesting to me. I am more inclined to read such a book with human stories (if fictitious), than to pick up a non-fiction on the history of So. Africa. Anyone ...more
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A truly magnificent work. This should be required reading for anyone interested in South Africa.
Sep 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was published in 1980.


B.P.E.--Before the present Era. Cave paintings in South Africa carbon dated at 13000 B.P.E.

Hottentots-the native people of southwestern Africa, closely related to the Bushmen. The San people, more commonly known as Bushmen, are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of southern Africa. They have lived for 80,000 years as hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari Desert, and are well-known for their expert survival skills in a harsh environment. Their
Richard Marney
A reread. The first time was 3 decades ago. I still have the original, much beaten-up paperback, complete with all the necessary scotch tape to keep the pages together. I found the book as enthralling as in the first reading. Since that time, the "Rainbow Nation" has been born. This event, one of the most positive moments in the 20th century, was in the back of my mind as I raced to the section of the narrative where the idea of Aparteid comes to life in an Afrikaaner kitchen (preparing gelatine ...more
Michael Hutchings
Apr 18, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh. I loved Alaska, but would pass on South Africa.
Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
massive book. but brilliant. i zipped through the first 600 pages in no time but the last few dragged on a bit i thought. its about the history of south africa simply. talks predominantly about how the dutch adn french adn english invaded the country their intrarivalries as well as the rivalries they had in teh past with teh zulu and xhosa (and other african tribes). if you think youve read the long walk to freedom and my tritors heart and think you know south africa then think again. this book ...more
Shawn Thrasher
I read almost all of The Covenant by James A. Michener - for the second time. Maybe third? Certainly the last time I read it was many, many years ago. I have to be completely honest - I didn't finish it. Skimmed to the end. The despicable characters in the last three chapters and the origins of their racism - the stripping open of South African's racist past -- were blunt and horrible. What ugly people. I needed some heroes, and these people weren't it. Small and ugly. Luckily, I have the ...more
Mar 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michener's take on South Africa

Michener's true epics are always worth the time to read. The Covenant is no exception. Michener's take on South Africa and its history is an honest attempt to give some perspective on one of the more complex histories that this history teacher has encountered.

The book starts out strong (my edition was the two-volume hardback). The first volume was vintage Michener, but the second one dragged. Perhaps it was because the subject matter became more and more
Daniel Villines
Jun 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An understatement of the truth would be to say that reading Michener is an investment in time. However, this novel is a must-read for anyone who wants to have a working understanding of the inhabitants, the history, and the culture of South Africa. From day-one to the date of publication, the people of South Africa are illuminated by consecutive stories of the period and the land. Everything is presented without bias and is brought to light by the words of Michener’s prose.

I read this book
Liesbeth Raymakers
Absolutely must-read if you want to understand a tiny bit of the complex history and psychology of the people of South Africa. Especially the Afrikaner and English struggle to settle in SA,customs, psyche and historical tipping points and their effect on SA's history are very well captured. The African, black population is somewhat out of sight, and it would be great to have a sequel to this thoroughly researched book, this time with a focus on the anti-apartheid struggle and great humanity of ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
This was the last Michener novel sitting on my shelf. I think I've had enough of him. This one was OK, but not as compelling as some of the others. None of the characters were very well fleshed out, and the tone towards the natives, especially the early ones seemed very patronizing at times, even though Michener was clearly trying to be sympathetic. The whole thing was a ramp up to apartheid, which was still ongoing at the time the book was written. I suppose it did a good job describing how ...more
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rebekah by: my professor
Shelves: fiction, classic
This book is VERY in depth, to say the least. I read it as an academic requirement before studying abroad in South Africa for 3.5 months. I found myself wondering how much truth there was to the story Michener was telling. Turns out, a lot of it was quite relevant and accurate. However, I was frustrated with the overwhelming amount of detail the author put into little side-stories sprinkled throughout the entire novel. Overall, very well-written, but not my type of book.
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James Albert Michener is best known for his sweeping multi-generation historical fiction sagas, usually focusing on and titled after a particular geographical region. His first novel, Tales of the South Pacific , which inspired the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Toward the end of his life, he created the Journey Prize, awarded annually for
“This is not a promise, this is not threat, it's just the way it's gonna be!!!” 8 likes
“a word once written will often accidentally find a life that no one anticipates; it lies” 1 likes
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