A prolific Bengalese writer, Tagore structured this novel such that three main characters represent the turbulence of the Partition looming on India's horizon in 1947. In this complex allegory, each character in his own way is subject to personal doubts and the habits of place and class, none anticipating the tremendous changes that will soon be thrust upon them when the British leave India.
Nikhil is married to Bimala, existing in the traditional domestic manner; for herself, Bimala has no expectation of her life ever deviating from her wifely path. The concept of "Swadeshi", a renewed appreciation of everything Indian and a denial of everything British, particularly British imported goods and grains, rages throughout the country, as a repressed citizenry wakes after a long slumber of indignities and patronization.
The egocentric Sandip, a guest in Nikhil's home, is a fierce proponent of Swadeshi. Sandip is passionately attracted to Bimala, idealizing her as the epitome of "Mother" India; he pursues Bimala without reservation, driven by his mission. Flattered by Sandip's attention, Bimala question the nature of her marriage and her role as a woman, as the three embark upon an emotional journey that will forever alter their lives, just as India lurches into a lengthy period of upheaval and unrest.
This is an era of tremendous social change that will resonate across the country in unspeakable acts of violence, lives changed irrevocably. Of the three, Sandip is transparently shallow, while Nikhil thoughtfully considers every aspect before embarking on a course of action, a quality that works to his detriment. Both men indulge in lengthy discourses, but the introduction by Anita Desai does much to frame this novel in the appropriate perspective. The allegorical nature of this tale is evident as the characters plunge headlong into a chaotic future they could never have anticipated.