university of toronto quarterly
volume 74, number 1
winter 2004/5

by Lorraine York


Raywat Deonandan's novel Divine Elemental works harder than Simmie's and Coupland's at plumbing the depths of loss and desire, but, ironically, it may not grasp as much. It is no less than an inquiry into the relation between scientific and spiritual modes of apprehending the world. Iskandar Diamandi, a scientist, moves from Canada to work with a renowned entomologist, and he finds himself thrown into a crisis of knowledge and feeling. Whenever he is not stoned on homemade arak, he is puzzling out the nature of desire and relationship, and the figure that Deonandan chooses to carry this challenge is the life cycle of the insect that Iskandar half-heartedly chooses to investigate: the fig wasp. In its short life, the female?s only drive is to find a place to lay her eggs; she is, in fact, pregnant when she emerges into her larval stage. Throughout his time in India, Iskandar, drawn to the young woman Kalya, is faced with this problematic: Is life driven by simple instincts, or is there a larger impulse that drives us all? Sometimes, technical, scientific language overpowers the novel?s prose, and, at other times, the narrator simply tells us too much, too explicitly. We learn, for instance, that Kalya is an "unmarried woman torn between the individualistic values of the West and the paramount familial imperatives of the East."