- A Cab of Her Own:Immigration and Mobility in Iva Pekárková's Gimme the Money
In front of her there was a whole maze of streets crossing each other at right angles, well known to her, made penetrable and available to her as if it was a map of her own head.Gimme the Money
Iva Pekárková, a contemporary Czech writer, based her novel Gimme the Money (British edition 2000) on her own immigrant experience. After her defection from Communist Czechoslovakia in 1985, Pekárková came to the United States, where she lived in New York for ten years and drove a cab. She published the Czech version of Gimme the Money in 1995, shortly before returning to the Czech Republic.1 Working with her American husband, she later translated the novel into English.
Gimme the Money breaks new ground in ways of reading and writing about immigration by revising the notion of mobility, and by demanding the same mobility for the genre of immigrant literature. When allegorized by a cab, an immigrant's mobility is multidirectional and circular rather than one-directional and linear. In a rendering that hence favors contingency over continuity, Pekárková reconceives one of the basic paradigms of this genre, the immigrant's journey to a new country as a geographical and temporal route from an old self to a new one. At the same time, Pekárková's novel moves like a vehicle across [End Page 636] familiar and foreign literary landscapes. It invites a conversation with immigrant as well as nonimmigrant literary works and traditions, including the Eastern European immigrant autobiography of Eva Hoffman, Virginia Woolf's modernist texts, and new writing from postcommunist Europe by Slavenka Drakulić and Dubravka Ugrešić.
Gin, the heroine of Gimme the Money, drives a taxi in New York, seeking a new life and identity in her daily encounters with the vibrant and multilayered metropolis. In its daily sequence of fortuitous destinations, the cab's multidirectional movements contrast with a one-directional movement from one location to another, the kind of movement generally thought to characterize immigrant experience. Gin's taxi-driving thus represents a new kind of mobility complicating the given mobility of immigration itself.
Importantly, the mobility of a cab within the mobility of immigration offers a new model for writing about immigrant experience. For Pekárková, immigration is a process that must be constantly renegotiated. Gin is an immigrant who arrives at a new location yet never stops moving. Her new home is located in a vehicle, what taxi drivers call "their four-wheeled homes away from home" (51). As Gin constantly repositions herself vis-à-vis the city, her destinations, as markers on the course of her immigrant experience, are always temporary. Pekárková's text expresses this mobility formally through the trope of circles. These circles convey the circulating life in the metropolis: some chapter titles are "Protective Circles," "The City, Circles," "Cobwebs," and "Return Trips." Within these circles, the characteristics of places and of people overlap, and the coil of the present tense is accentuated. Every moment matters; every moment means an end and a new beginning, a new chance, a new decision. Pekárková terms this new literary form a "taxi story," an open-ended story that is always in the making.
The multidirectional mobility of the cab driver characterizes Iva Pekárková as a writer equally well. It is difficult to place her in a single literary context and tradition. She is claimed by the canon of Czech national literature primarily as a post–1968 émigré writer, because she belongs to the generation of artists and intellectuals who defected from Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Soviet invasion, disappointed by the reimposition of Soviet political [End Page 637] doctrine.2 Among these writers, Milan Kundera is probably the most prominent. Although Pekárková, a much younger writer, left the country later, the continuing restrictions on all freedoms, including freedom of speech and the freedom to travel, were certainly among the reasons for her emigration.3
Pekárková questions conventional thinking about "emigrant" and "immigrant" identities, refusing to be bound by either term. She does not...