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Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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The Tannery

The tannery symbolizes the force of change. Ruku blames much of the unpleasantness of her life on the tannery, as it was the thing that disrupted her peaceful life. The tannery does cause much of her misfortune simply because it radically changed their traditional village life.

Ira’s Dowry, Fireworks, the Dum-Dum Cart

All of these are symbols of Ruku’s hope. Even in the worst of times, Ruku tried to set aside for the future and understood the importance of little “splurges.” Without such hope, Ruku surely would have given up on life long before the novel ended.


Water is a symbol of life. Without water the family does not eat. Too much water and they don’t eat either. Life for the poor is a delicate balance and much depends on the whims of nature. So important is water that Ruku and Nathan name their firstborn, Irawaddy, after a river.


Represents life. Without it they die. When Ruku must ration her last ollacks of rice she literally counts the number of days they will live. Ruku and Nathan go to the temple for rice so that they may survive in the city.


A recurring idea or motif throughout the novel is change. Ruku must deal with many changes in her family, her village and in herself. She learns to adapt to changes instead of letting those changes break her.


Nectar in a Sieve

Kamala Markandaya

Date Published


A village in rural India and an unnamed Indian city, probably in the mid 1900s


The forces of change

Ruku must learn to deal with many changes and hardships in the course of her life

Reflective and hopeful

Point of View
First Person (the story is told as a flashback from Ruku’s perspective)

Rising Action
Ruku marries, has children, deals with change in her village with the coming of the tannery, suffers floods, deals with her daughter’s failed marriage, loses sons, and suffers drought and starvation.

Ruku and her family lose their land and she and her husband must leave the only life they’ve ever known.

Falling Action
Ruku and Nathan suffer further misfortune in the city and decide to return to the village. Nathan dies before they can do so but Ruku returns to her remaining children.

Hope, Consequence of Change, Traditional Values vs. Modernization, Man vs. Nature, Family

The Tannery, Ira's Dowry, Fireworks, the Dum-Dum Cart, Rain/Water, Rice, Change

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Sinclair, Meredith. "TheBestNotes on Nectar in a Sieve". . 09 May 2017