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Nectar in a Sieve

Nectar in a Sieve

Author(s): Kamala Markandaya

Location(s): India

Genre(s): Fiction



‘Sometimes we eat and sometimes we starve. We live by our labours from one harvest to the next, there is no certain telling whether we shall be able to feed ourselves and our children, and if bad times are prolonged we know we must see the weak surrender their lives. … In our lives there is no margin for misfortune.’

Nectar in a Sieve paints an unforgettable picture of rural India of sixty years ago. In a magical blend of sweetness and terror, the tender love story of Rukmani and Nathan, and their concern and care for their children, is contrasted with the family’s utter vulnerability to the forces of nature, capitalist industry, and poverty. One blow after another falls on Rukmani, but she never becomes bitter and her love for her husband never falters.

Kamala Markandaya’s pioneering work gives an authentic voice to a poor village woman, of all India’s multitudes the least heard. Through the words of Kenny, the visiting doctor, and the anger of the rising generation, Rukmani’s children, Markandaya questions the villagers’ meek acceptance of their lot and the total absence, in a modern nation, of social support of any kind. The novel is so beautifully written, however, that these themes never dominate the gripping narrative.

Originally published in 1954, Markandaya’s debut novel became an international best-seller and was translated into seventeen languages. It continues to be taught in universities in India and the United States.

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“Nectar in a Sieve” was the first novel written by my mother, the Indian novelist Kamala Markandaya. It was originally published in 1954 in London, the city my mother had moved to in 1948,...

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