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The Covenant

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  20,254 ratings  ·  505 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, 1240 pages
Published January 9th 1992 by Mandarin (first published January 1st 1980)
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Average rating 4.20  · 
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 ·  20,254 ratings  ·  505 reviews

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Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
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.
Brett C
May 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is great if you enjoy James Michener's books. His style reads and flows almost like a history textbook but is filled with characters and events that add to the overall narrative. This one was similar to 'Alaska' because the plot starts out in prehistoric South Africa and gradually moves into the 20th century. What makes it unique is the narrative has characters with dialogue, interaction, and continual transitions into the future. The books follows prehistoric man, the history of the variou ...more
Oct 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.

Daniel Villines
Jun 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I first read The Covenant nearly twenty years ago. The book was recommended to me by a South African associate when I mentioned that I was traveling to South Africa for an upcoming vacation. At the time, apartheid had already died a surprisingly peaceful death and Nelson Mandela had completed a relatively quiet and apparently successful five years in office as the first president of a new government. At the time, I took the book very superficially. After all, the entire content of The Covenant h ...more
Allison Corin
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.

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 br
Jonathan Dunsky
Nov 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Will Semin
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 Afric ...more
Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 Michener´s insight into the shaping of post-apartheid South Africa.
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.
I tru
Mar 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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 le
Feb 20, 2013 rated it liked it
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 count ...more
Mar 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Not my favorite Michener by far but there were still some really interesting stories. As with most of his books, the first half of the book was much stronger than this second half. In this book's case, the real issue for me was reading about all the racism and apartheid and general bigotry throughout the book. I never knew South Africa came from such a rough, racist background. This book taught me a lot but it was no picnic to read. ...more
Janith Pathirage
Jan 29, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An epic historical fiction novel about South Africa from 1300s to the 1970s. This whole story revolves around 3 families who represent the 3 significant races of the country. Black South Africans, the Dutch and the English. It was fascinating to see their clash throughout the centuries for the ownership of South Africa. Some characters of the book are fictional and some are real historical figures like King Shaka of the Zulu tribe. It was so interesting to read about this half mad, warmongering ...more
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: authors-michener
Really very good in places, but a bit uneven. As usual with a large Michener, the earlier chapters were better than the last few. The short chapter on prehistoric South Africa and chapters on the Trekboers, Mfecane, Shaka Zulu and the arrival of the English were really well written and worth plowing through such a long saga. The last three chapters on Apartheid were just plain tedious.
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
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 inte ...more
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book for 50 Cents in one of the nicest book stores ever. Too bad it's in Gold Beach, Oregon. ...more
Sep 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 t
Meticulously researched, epic and mostly entertaining. Fascinating to see how a terrible interpretation of the Old Testament led to so much evil. It is too bad that it stops at 1980 (to have a book about SA with no mention of Mandela?!) but on that note it is pretty insightful about what would happen. Although I'm sure not all of Michener's judgements or descriptions are politically correct, for what it is - a historical fiction novel about SA published by an American in 1980- it's very well don ...more
Carolyn Walsh
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
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, Hugue
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
Richard Marney
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Nancy Chappell
Dec 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
Honestly, there's too much of this book to make anything of it. I finished it 5 minutes ago and can tell you maybe 25% of the plot(s). There were about 3 poignant moments in 1235 pages. A LOT of the characters are absolutely insufferable. It's incredibly formulaic and a bit too sympathetic towards irredeemably awful people for my taste. -1 for soulessness -2 stars for racism -1 star for time. 1 star for the bare minimum. ...more
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A truly magnificent work. This should be required reading for anyone interested in South Africa.
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Great African Reads: "The Covenant" by James A. Michener 15 45 Jun 14, 2009 09:02PM  

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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

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