Nectar in a Sieve is Kamala Markandaya's first novel to be published, although it is actually the third novel she wrote. It became a best-seller around the world and was translated into seventeen languages. In 1955, it was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association.
The novel was published in 1954, less than a decade after India won its independence from Britain. Nectar in a Sieve is clearly influenced by this event, portraying some of the problems encountered by the Indian people as they dealt with the changing times. Markandaya never mentions a specific time or place, however, which gives the story universality. Some of the struggles that the main character, Rukmani, faces are the result of the changing times, but they are the kinds of struggles (poverty, death, loss of tradition) that are experienced by many people for many reasons.
Far beyond its political context, the novel is appealing to modern readers for its sensitive and moving portrayal of the strength of a woman struggling with forces beyond her control. It is a story about the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of values.