Sairam Krishnan's Reviews > Nectar in a Sieve

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
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's review
Dec 02, 2013

it was amazing

As I read Nectar in a Sieve on a flight to Pune from Delhi for an industry workshop, I had to rip my face away every 5 pages or so, usually for a gasp and a deep breath. This happened so often that my neighbor found cause to ask me what was wrong.

I, of course, shook my head, thanked him & went back to reading. There are somethings that are better left unsaid.

Nectar in a Sieve takes us back to a time and people that are now so buried in ours history that forgotten is a rich word. Because we can only forget what we once remembered. This is the story of people our country never had any reason to remember.

The tale of Rukmani and her husband Nathan, in a village in South India is taught across numerous literature courses worldwide. Landless peasants bound by culture, tradition and their belief in fate and hard work, they reel in the changes newly independent India throws at them. It is an emotional tale, filled with historical nuance and haunting allegory. For instance, the conundrum of the Tamil migration to Sri Lanka is told in one powerful sentence. Just one. The prose is as spare as it can get, and as the novel keeps surprising you again and again, you will wonder how she did all that in 200 pages or so.

The almost automatic connection was to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The themes are not similar, they are, in fact, the same. Steinbeck's immortal classic is the story of a family uprooted from their land and left to fend for themselves in an indifferent land. Their courage and belief in the simple values of honesty and hard work even in the face of extreme hardship is a troubling, sometimes very hard read. So is Nectar in a Sieve. Markandaya's rural Tamil family is the same as Steinbeck's country farming clan. If you can, try reading them both together. But brace yourself, for these are great writers and the images they put inside your heads will be wounds that might never heal.

Kamala Markandaya was one of the first Indian writers in English, and this beautiful Penguin Classics edition of Nectar in a Sieve goes straight to my top shelf at home in Pondicherry. These books I never lend, for these are the books I hope to pass on, the stories I hope to tell my children. They need to know who their people where, they need to know the land they come from. This book will show them an old photograph of it, and from that small sliver of history, I will let them take what they will.

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Reading Progress

December 2, 2013 – Started Reading
December 2, 2013 – Shelved
December 3, 2013 – Finished Reading

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