Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya is an historical fiction novel about a woman’s life in India. Markandaya’s novel has sold over a million copies and is a classic tale of love, family, and hardship.
Nectar in a Sieve is the story of Rukmani, beginning with her marriage, as a young girl (a child bride) to a man she’s never met, a farmer, Nathan, and covering the span of her life, from her struggles with having children, to finally starting a family, and, eventually, the struggles that come with living off the land, the village growing more urban, and her grown up children making their own way. It’s full of love, sadness, hope, and courage in the face of adversity.
This story was so powerful to me. I had some vague idea that it was not a “happy” book from my sister, who had to read it in high school, but I didn’t really know much else. I can say that I was really blown away by how invested I became in this story. I was worried it would be too sad for me to fully connect with it, but really, Markandaya’s writing is so heartfelt and open. I found myself immersed in Rukmani’s story and wanting to know how everything would play out for her.
Yes, there are some serious hurdles she must overcome, but the nice thing about this story is that it is full of hope and family. No matter what Rukmani faces, she faces it with her husband, and her children. She clings to hope even when her family is starving, even when it seems like there is no where else for her to turn to aid her family. It’s really uplifting despite Markandaya’s realistic account of the extreme poverty and livelihood struggles in rural India, some time in the early 20th century. Ultimately, I found myself connecting with the story and turning page after page. It was so good.
Literary Value: 4/5
I really enjoyed Markandaya’s writing. It was so quiet and beautiful. Much of the story is provided in sweeping narrative, with only specific moments brought forth in more detail. I didn’t mind this in the least. In fact, I think it helped keep the story flowing, since the novel covers the majority of Rukmani’s lifespan. By the end of the novel, she is a middle-aged adult. By keeping the story limited to a series of vignettes of Rukmani’s life, the plot unfurls smoothly.
If I were to describe the writing style to someone, I’d say it’s very confessional, like a diary, but closer to conversation. It’s all from Rukmani’s perspective, and the reader gets to see the world from her eyes. I enjoyed this style, as it allowed me to feel closer to Rukmani and to sympathize with her and hope with her as the novel progressed. It’s such a quiet novel, despite so many big things that happen within it. I definitely want to read more of Markandaya’s work now that I’ve read this one.
Entertainment Factor: 3/5
I’m glad the novel was not particularly long. Though I enjoyed the story very much, because of its sometimes bleak or hopeless moments, it would probably be very depressing if it were longer. That being said, despite the low moments, I very much enjoyed reading about Rukmani’s life. I was deeply engrossed in her story and I didn’t often put the book down because I wanted to know what would happen next. I think I’m glad I read this as an adult, not in high school, because I think I would not have enjoyed it as much as a teenager. Being an adult and having had a few big obstacles I’ve overcome under my belt, I think I related to Rukmani more, so her story was more accessible to me and, therefore, more enjoyable.
Cover Art Rating: 3/5
I love the color on this cover. It’s so warm and inviting! But not much else is happening in it. There’s a woman, looking out, probably wistfully, but there isn’t much of India on display here, or a sense of what this story might be about. It almost looks like a romance, because of the mood set by this image. While there is love between Rukmani and her husband, it’s not exactly a romance, so I think, in a way, the cover is a bit misleading.
Also, Rukmani talks frequently about how beautiful her village is, and it even becomes a point of importance when a factory opens up in town, which ends up taking away some of that beauty. I wish the cover had displayed some of that vibrant, nature in some way. Otherwise, it’s an okay cover and I definitely don’t hate it.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Grains of Rice
This was a really beautiful novel about a young Indian woman’s life. I enjoyed the hopefulness and poignancy that accompanied all the lows throughout Rukmani’s life. I felt that the pacing of the story, the characters, and the overall message of hope in this novel helped make it an enjoyable, touching read, for me, and I would definitely recommend it, particularly to fans of historical fiction, as well as lovers of realistic fiction.
This story contains a brief glimpse into a culture otherwise unfamiliar to me, so I enjoyed that Markandaya portrayed it so clearly and so accessibly. I really felt connected to the characters the writing was so lovely. I will definitely be checking out Markandaya’s other work.
Thoughts & Thanks!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this review. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this book, whether you’ve read it or are interested in reading it.
Have you read any of Markandaya’s other works? Which would you recommend I check out next? Let’s chat in the comments below! Happy reading.