Taylor, Kamala (1924—)

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Taylor, Kamala (1924—)

British novelist who was one of the first women writers from the Indian subcontinent to achieve renown. Name variations: Kamala Purnaiya Taylor; (pseudonym) Kamala Markandaya. Born in 1924 (one source cites 1923), in Chimakurti, India; graduated from the University of Madras; married; children: one daughter, Kim.

Selected writings:

Nectar in a Sieve (1954); Some Inner Fury (1955); A Silence of Desire (1960); Possession (1963); A Handful of Rice (1966); The Coffer Dams (1969); The Nowhere Man (1972); Two Virgins (1973); The Golden Honeycomb (1977); Pleasure City (1982, published as Shalimar in the U.S., 1983).

Because of its wealth of natural resources, India was long considered the "jewel" in the colonial crown of the British Empire, which had first established a presence there in the 16th century, until gathering resentment and the political leadership of Indians like Mohandas Gandhi led to India's independence in 1947. Kamala Taylor, who was born into the Brahmin caste in Chimakurti, India, in 1924 and moved to England a year after independence, wrote a number of novels that reflect the historical and cultural links, and tensions, between England and India.

Nectar in a Sieve (1954), Taylor's first published novel, was the third she had written. Roundly praised, it launched her as a new voice in post-colonial English literature, was translated into 17 languages, and was named one of the American Library Association's Notable Books of 1955. Set in a farming village in India, Nectar in a Sieve depicts a world of great poverty in which political, economic, and social factors have not made death by starvation a thing of the past. Her second novel, Some Inner Fury (1955), introduced a theme that would become a mainstay of her fiction: the social and cultural conflicts between East and West, specifically between Indians and Britons. The book details a romance between an Indian woman and her English boyfriend during World War II; a great deal of it revolves around the significant "Quit India" campaign in which independence leaders pushed Britain to end its involvement with the Asian subcontinent. Like many Indians and Britons at the time, the characters in Some Inner Fury are divided over the issue.

What some critics consider her most fully realized novel, A Silence of Desire (1960), again portrays the dynamics of a world in which Western modernism and Eastern traditions uneasily co-exist; the story centers around an Indian immigrant and his ill wife's visits to a faith healer. Possession (1963) is set partly in London and tracks the relationship between an Indian artist and his aristocratic English patron. Though Taylor has sometimes faced criticism—particularly from Indian scholars—for the perceived "unease" with which she writes of the poor, as well as for her reliance on more educated, middle-class immigrant characters, she nevertheless shows a willingness to delve into other facets of the immigrant experience. In A Handful of Rice (1966), she introduces readers to the crowded conditions of less affluent Indians sharing living quarters in London. Her 1972 novel The Nowhere Man portrays an elderly Indian immigrant, a London merchant, who becomes the target of discrimination and hate crimes.

Critics have noted that with her 1973 novel Two Virgins, Taylor introduced newer themes and more experimental prose. Since then, her novels have appeared less frequently, although she still writes as a freelance journalist. Pleasure City, published in 1982, concerns the friendship between a boy in an Indian fishing village and the junior executive of a massive, multinational company that builds a luxury resort nearby.


Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. Edited by Claire Buck. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Contemporary Novelists. 6th ed. Edited by Susan Windisch Brown. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1996.

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century. Rev. ed. Edited by Leonard S. Klein. NY: Continuum, 1993.

Oxford Companion to English Literature. Rev. 5th ed. Edited by Margaret Drabble. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan

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