You cannot read this book with the feminist ideals of today. The writer Premchand was a pioneer of his times and social messages had a prominent role in his works. But even then, this novel doesn’t really contain a revolutionary idea. The central plot is pretty tame and has conformist elements along with the idea of addressing the plight of women in the Indian society of those times.
Now, this doesn’t take anything away from the realism contained in these 160 pages of Hindi literature. The language is also quite good and keeps you engaged. The novel reads very smoothly and there was no point where it got tedious or boring.
The best part about the book is that it is not preachy and it doesn’t demonize or glorify anyone. It is a woman-centric novel but it is not a feminist novel. Not in my opinion. It doesn’t really emphasize how Nirmala’s life was governed by oppressive men and society. It is more about poverty and people being selfish at certain points. At one point, even Nirmala falls. She is the quintessential vamp for a few pages.
Premchand has given every character his or her own reasons and that has led to a beautiful storyline. I did some Wikipedia research and found out that the story was indeed written with breaks in the forms of episodes for a magazine. That kind of explains a lot.
I would still rate the book 4 stars for its literary genius. The author abstains from painting characters black or white and that’s what makes the book a unique piece of work.