Public and Private Space in Ivˇ Pekˇrkovˇ's Truck Stop Rainbows

Linda Shipley, University of Texas, Austin

Iva Pekˇrkovˇ's 1989 novel Truck Stop Rainbows depicts a young woman's journey in search of beauty, freedom, and self-identity. Situated within Communist Czechoslovakia of the 1980s, the narrator, Viola, must conduct her search in a rigidly controlled state where much is public and little is private. The constant intrusion of the public sphere into the private one proves particularly influential upon the many sexual experiences that comprise the narrator's search for identity. All the examples of Viola's sexuality, which include hitchhiking with local truck drivers, prostituting herself to foreign truckers, falling in love with a visiting Swede, and experimenting with her lesbian lover, demonstrate various aspects of her self identity and the need to mediate between public and private selves during the Soviet era. The need to adjust one's behavior in accordance with the publicity or privacy of a certain situation shapes Viola's identity, thus revealing how one's culture determines oneself.

As J¸rgen Habermas notes in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, the term "public" conveys a variety of meanings, including something that is open to everyone, belongs to the community as a whole, or implies an official (state) capacity. Private exists in direct opposition to public, suggesting simply something that is not public, not for the whole community, but for an individual, and not open to everyone, but intimate. Habermas admits that his approach to the public sphere is limited to a bourgeois society. Indeed, in a Communist society, such as Czechoslovakia, the difference between public and private is not as clearly delineated as Habermas's definitions imply, since a space that is not public does not necessarily mean that it is private. Pekˇrkovˇ's novel documents this reality of life in Czechoslovakia in the seventies and eighties, demonstrating how the Communist economic and political system shapes public and private space, in effect blurring the distinction between them. In discussing the novel in terms of public and private space, Habermas's theory may be taken even further to reveal how the construction of public and private space trickles down to influence one's self-identity.

Mediating between the public and private is a complex issue in any society, as a resident must learn to modify behavior to suit the appropriate space. Pekˇrkovˇ's Truck Stop Rainbows demonstrates how Communism blurs the distinction between public and private spaces, how citizens must modify their behavior for this non-distinction and how this ultimately influences one's identity. The given system creates a culture with an ambiguous division between public and private space. As Pekˇrkovˇ depicts, successfully functioning in such a society lies not in the formation of a private and public self depending on the space, but in the development of a self who can exist in both spaces.