Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya-Online Book Summary


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The novel is told in flashback - at the start, we meet Ruku as an elderly woman reflecting on the events of her life. This structure allows Ruku not only to narrate her life experiences but also to analyze them, helping the reader to see how she learned and grew from each event.

The novel is also divided into two parts: Part one covers the majority of Rukuís married life; the much shorter part two deals with Ruku and Nathanís failed attempt to move to the city after losing their land and contains the falling action of the novel.

The first chapters (Ch. 1-3) deal with Rukuís transformation from an uncertain child bride to a confident young wife and mother. These chapters are mostly without hardship - the family is poor but has enough to eat; Ruku and Nathan begin to realize they will never own their own land but have hopes that their children may some day rise out of poverty. The one obstacle Ruku must overcome, her temporary inability to have sons, is nearly forgotten after she has five sons in as many years.


The arrival of the tannery marks a turning point in Rukuís life as well as in the course of the novel. In this second section (Ch. 4-12), Rukuís life becomes more complex as she must deal with losing her daughter to marriage and the subsequent failure of that marriage, the impact of the tannery on her family including the loss of her oldest sons, and the increasing impact of the weather on the rice crop and the familyís finances through flooding monsoon rains and the onset of drought. Still there is hope for a better future and bright moments in life (like the Deepavali festival), although each struggle dims hope just a bit more.

The third section (Ch. 13-16) deals with the severe drought and period of extreme hunger. The drought claims the crop as well as Rukuís sons Raja and Kuti. Ira turns to prostitution to try to help the family and save Kuti - it seems that the familyís fortunes could sink no lower. Kunthiís blackmail attempt exposes Rukuís long held secret (her visit to Kennyís clinic) and reveals the bookís biggest surprise - Nathan fathered Kunthiís sons. Just as Nathan and Rukuís marriage survived Kunthiís storm and emerged stronger, the family survives the drought and dares to hope once again.

The next section (Ch. 17-23) shows the familyís recovery from the drought. Ira has her albino child and the family shows unity and strength as they accept the child in the face of the villageís disdain.


Just when it seems that the tide has finally turned for the family, the worst happens - the family is informed they must leave the land immediately as it has been purchased by the tannery. Ruku feels the tannery has stalked her family all these years and now has finally devoured them. She admits though that other forces - nature in particular - conspired against them. Ruku and Nathanís decision to go to the city marks the climax as it will alter the course of their lives and change the direction of the storyline.


The final chapters (Ch. 24-30) contain the falling action and cover Ruku and Nathanís journey to the city, their struggle to find their son (and their disappointment at his fate), their bad luck in being robbed and their resolve to return to their familiar village. It also introduces the character of Puli, the young boy who will provide Ruku with new reason to hope at the end of her life.

Since the novel opens with the beginning of Rukuís marriage, it is fitting that it ends with the death of her beloved husband. The final chapter brings the narrative full circle and we now understand how Ruku became the woman who tells the story.

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