Critical Overview

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

Upon its 1954 publication, Nectar in a Sieve was embraced by critics and readers alike. The book was praised for its sensitive and artful depiction of life in an Indian village as it changes in the wake of industrialization and modernization. Western readers found the book accessible, despite its unfamiliar physical and cultural setting. A contributor to Contemporary Novelists declared Markandaya "one of the best contemporary Indian novelists."

Critics note that although Markandaya wrote the book in English, the language never seems at odds with the themes or the characters' speech. This is an accomplishment because although English is one of the official languages of India it is not the language of daily life, especially the daily lives of poor people such as those portrayed in the book. Markandaya manages to write a distinctly Indian story in a Western language. William Dunlea of Commonwealth described Markandaya's use of English as "fresh and limpid, only slightly ornate in stylization."

Many critics were especially impressed by Markandaya's accurate portrayal of life in a rural Indian village. In a 1955 review, Donald Barr of the New York Times Book Review wrote, "Nectar in a Sieve has a wonderful, quiet authority over our sympathies because Kamala Markandaya is manifestly an authority on village life in India." He adds that, after all, "everything that is of final importance in life can happen in a village." Reviewers comment on how Markandaya makes village existence come to life in the minds and hearts of Western readers, allowing them to look inside the minds of people whose experiences are vastly different from their own. J. F. Muehl of Saturday Review, for example, noted,

You read it because it answers so many real questions: What is the day-to-day life of the villager like? How does a village woman really think of herself? What goes through the minds of people who are starving?

Only a few of Markandaya's contemporaries found the book lacking. Dunlea, for example, commented, "Nectar in a Sieve is true without being revealing, promising but not remarkable." Most critics and readers, however, are drawn to the rich cultural landscape, the realistic characters, the well-wrought themes, and the lively language.

Since the publication of Nectar in a Sieve, Markandaya has written nine other novels, yet this one continues to be the subject of much critical analysis and acclaim. That female Indian writers today are compared and contrasted with Markandaya is further evidence of her staying power.

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