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Photo credit: Iva Pekárková
Iva Pekárková is a Czech émigré writer who has gained a considerable reputation at home and abroad. With zeal and persistence, Pekárková strives to articulate terms of female freedom in a world divided by walls, be they the infamous Berlin Wall or less visible walls that continue to separate countries and cultures even after they fall. In Pekárková's fiction, this world is always unresistingly vast and inviting in spite of these walls. As she says in this interview, her heroines seek comfort as well as adventure in exploring the "whole big world," which makes their own troubles and pains seem suddenly quite small.
Like her fearless heroines, Pekárková has crossed many boundaries in her life as an émigré and writer. She was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1963. During her studies of microbiology and virology at Charles University, she started writing fiction. In 1985, dissatisfied with life in Communist Czechoslovakia, she defected to Austria, where she spent a year in a refugee camp before immigrating to the United States. For the next ten years she lived primarily in New York City and tried many occupations, ranging from social worker in the South Bronx to limousine chauffeur and Yellow Cab driver.
Pekárková's best-known novels are inspired by her life experiences. Truck Stop Rainbows (1989, Czech; 1992, English) chronicles the hitchhiking experiences of the sexually liberated Fialka, who lives under the oppressive Czechoslovak regime of the 1980s. The World Is Round (1993, Czech; 1994, English) depicts Jitka's trajectory toward freedom after she escapes from Communist Czechoslovakia and awaits political asylum in the West in an Austrian refugee camp in [End Page 155] the mid-1980s. Gin, the protagonist of Gimme the Money (1996, Czech; 2000, English), is an immigrant who embraces a new life in America. This novel, based on Pekárková's experience as a taxi driver, manifests her fascination with the culturally diverse urban environment of New York City. In comparison to her predecessors in the previous two novels, Gin's Czechoslovak past plays but a small role as she acquires a cosmopolitan identity free from earlier restraints.
Clearly, Pekárková's art thrives in places where cultures meet. Pekárková spent time in Thailand in 1988 and 1989 in order to study life in Thai refugee camps. That experience inspired her to write a yet untranslated novel, "Thirty-two Kwan" (2000, Czech). It comes as no surprise that after resettling at the end of 1996 in the Czech Republic, the country from which she emigrated during Communism, Pekárková keeps leaving it again. Her travels to India and Nigeria have inspired her most recent work, which she translates as "To India Where Else" (2001, Czech) and "Naidja: Stars in My Heart" (2004, Czech). As she admits in the interview, life at home is "comfortable" but not very inspiring.
The boundaries that Pekárková addresses are not only those between countries, cultures, and political systems but also those of an individual body that resists the codes of a normative sexuality and insists on its autonomy as a conveyor of knowledge. Pekárková's open writing about sexuality, still rare among women writers in Eastern Europe, makes her a controversial figure in Czech literature. Her novel The Scarz (1997, English; 1998, Czech), inspired by a newspaper article, addresses issues of loneliness and belonging after the heroine has been "scarred," literally and metaphorically, by the sex-trafficking business. Although she usually writes in Czech and then helps to translate her work into English, Pekárková followed a reverse procedure for this novel. Her bilingual abilities as a writer and translator make her a transnational literary figure who defies being pigeonholed into a national literature.
Should we believe Pekárková's concluding words here...