Review: Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

"All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair--
The bees are stirring--birds are on the wing--
And Winter, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrighten'd, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live."

- (Samuel Taylor Coleridge "Work Without Hope")

I've read a lot of Asian-American and Indian-American literature. My second English class focused quite a bit on "mixed" American writers. Korean-American, Indian-American, Japanese-American, Chinese-American, African-American, and the list, as I remember, goes on. It was an interesting period in my reading because I was reading literature that I would never have picked up on my own. Not to mention, much of it was in the form of short stories which I wouldn't find on my own. A lot of the work was photocopied specifically for the class out of books that I would never go near.

My favorites were the Indian writers. I think I lost my adoration for them a bit when I worked on Dharamvir Bharati's The Blind Age during sophomore year, though. Among these writers were Jhumpa Lahiri and Bharati Mukherjee (my favorite was Mukherjee's short story - "A Father"). Their work is so beautiful and honest and still retain a bit of grit. That being said, I'm very surprised that I never came across Kamala Markandaya. In fact, when I picked it up in the library's fiction section and finally looked to see what it was, my initial reaction was to return it to the shelf because I thought I HAD read it or that I should have, and I was not looking forward to reading something my teacher would have had me read. But then I glanced at the back and decided to check it out anyway.

I'm so glad I did.

It's the kind of novel you have to read the back of. Not because there's something lost in translation or because the story is hard to follow, but because you need to be prepared. I can best describe it as the story of a woman with nothing to lose who loses almost everything. It's sweet, it's damp and dirty, it's about tradition and modernity, it's honest and beautiful, it's tragic and it's wonderful. And even in its sadness, its tragedy, and its dirt, it is hopeful.

Even in its frankness, it is hopeful. In the first 2 pages, you know how it will end. You know all of the tragedies that will happen in this woman's life. And yet you're drawn in. You keep reading even though you know it's going to be a big bad scary path. And you're rewarded for going with her on her journey. The visual quality of Markandaya's writing allows you to escape into that world, pretty or not. Strongly - very strongly - recommended.


  1. I cannot believe you just read this book! I tried to get you to read Nectar back when you were young enuogh to be a practicing Catholic. LOL
    .I love this book. The beauty, the agony, the grit that is life all come together in an honest story.
    If you have not already done so, you should now read Pearl Buck.

  2. I'll look into it on my next trip to the library.


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