Kamala Markandaya, the novelist, died in London, Sunday, May 16, 2004. Born Kamala Purnaiya in Mysore in 1924, she attended the University of Madras, beginning in 1940, where she studied history. From 1940 to 1947, she worked as a journalist and also published short stories in Indian newspapers, eventually emigrating to England in 1948. There she met her husband, Bertrand Taylor, with whom she had one daughter.
Fame and success came with her first published novel, Nectar in a Sieve (1954), a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection and best-seller in the United States. That novel was follow by nine others, including A Handful of Rice (1966), The Nowhere Man (1972), Two Virgins (1973), and The Golden Honeycomb (1977).
Her name was often invoked when talking of other Indian novelists writing in English at mid-point in the twentieth century, including Mulk Raj Anand, R. K.Narayan, Raja Rao, and Khushwant Singh, though she was the only female of the group. A special sensitivity demarcated all of her work, especially Some Inner Fury (1955) and Two Virgins.
Readers of her novels, however, were more often struck by the tensions her characters encountered when they
left the rural areas for the cities. Her two most popular novels, Nectar in a Sieve and A Handful of
Rice, were taught in hundreds of
American courses, both in the public schools and the universities.
Always a very private person, Markandaya granted few interviews and intentionally kept out of the limelight. After 1948, England became her home, with frequent trips back to India in order to find necessary inspiration for her writing.
She is survived by her daughter, Kim Oliver.
Charles R. Larson is Chair, Dept. of Literature, American University, Washington, D.C. 20016
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