From Prague to New York City: The Feminist Poetics of Iva Pekarkova

Elena Sokol, Wooster College

The primary focus of this paper will be the consideration of two novels by the Czech writer Iva Pekarkova (born 1963)--Pera a perute, 1989 (translated as Truck Stop Rainbows, 1994) and Dej mi ty prachy, 1996 (Gimme the Money, not yet published in English)--in the context of contemporary American feminist criticism. Above all, I will examine the relationship between the narrative strategies of Pekarkova's novels and the cultural geography of their respective settings. A primary source for my definition of feminst poetics is Joanne Frye's theoretical study of literary feminism: Living Stories, Telling Lives. Women and the Novel in Contemporary Experience. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1986.

Written after the author emigrated to the United States, both novels have a strong, independent woman as the main protagonist, conforming to familiar feminist expectations. At the same time, there is a striking contrast between the physical settings and cultural background of the two works, which, I maintain, ultimately influence the portrayal of the heroines. Truck Stop Rainbows, Pekarkova's first published novel, takes place in "normalized" socialist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s--a culture combining long-accepted norms of traditional patriarchy with the imposed strictures of Soviet-style communism. Gimme the Money, the author's third novel, is set among the uninhibited streets of today's multicultural New York City. The narrative of Truck Stop Rainbows is conveyed in the first-person by 25-year-old Fialka, who, although still registered as a university student, spends most of her time hitchhiking within the borders of her homeland. In Gimme the Money the narrator is third-person, but the point-of-view is that of the central character, Jindriska, a young Czech emigrant writer who supports herself as a taxi driver. While both novels focus on female individualists, the choices the protagonists Fialka and Jindriska make differ within the context of their respective environments. I argue that the free-spirited Fialka, on the one hand, rejects a sincere marriage proposal by the Swedish trucker with whom she has fallen in love because she is unwilling to sacrifice personal independence for political freedom. Instead, she chooses to resume her solitary travels on the highways of communist Czechoslovakia. Jindriska, on the other hand, after numerous rough and tumble experiences on the streets of democratic New York, is not afraid by the end of the novel to accept a man's invitation to break out of the confines of the American megapolis and explore the boundless landscape together with him. In each novel the underlying open-ended feminist narrative is given special definition by a specific cultural context.

Iva Pekarkova is one of the few contemporary Czech women writers who both understands and accepts the concept of feminist writing. Drawing on an interview I will have with the author in Prague in early June, I will supplement my feminist reading of her work with her own reaction to my interpretation, contributing a new dimension to our knowledge of Czech feminist poetics.