Born in Prague in 1963, Iva Pekárková cut short her studies of microbiology and virology and fled to the West in 1985. Via Austria, she migrated to the United States, where she lived mostly in New York, working as a taxi driver. She also lived in Chicago, California, and Arizona. In the late 1980s, she spent almost a year in Thailand teaching English in a refugee camp. She spent long periods in Canada, India, Malaysia, and Nigeria, usually writing a travelogue based on her adventures. At the moment, she lives in a house share in south London, surrounded by Nigerians. Some of her works have been published in translation in German and English.
Iva’s books in English (available on Amazon.com)
Truck Stop Rainbows (Vintage Press, 1994)
Gimme the Money (Serpents Tail, 2000)
The World Is Round (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1990)
Find Iva online at:
How has reading translations shaped your writing and view of the world? (Especially as such an avid traveler, I wonder how reading translation fiction colored your perceptions of the places you lived and travelled.)
I was lucky as I emigrated at 22 and soon learned very good English, so I was able to read pretty much all the important books ever published in the world, many of them translations. While many books may lose a bit of their local flavor in translation, strong stories remain strong. I have, therefore, learned that strong stories are very important, probably more important than flawless style or word play. When it comes to perception of places based on literature, this is a very dangerous thing, indeed. American as well as English literature that I had read before living in these places gave me a very, very false sense of them, mostly because they described these places as they were many years ago and, in some instances, perhaps only in the authors' imagination. I found both America and England completely different from the image I had formed of them.
Much of your writing explores the deeper nuances of cultural conflict. What does writing about these relationships and topics show us about ourselves and our world?
Well, whether we like it or not, the world is getting more crowded and more “multicultural” by the minute. It is more and more important to explore the interactions (I wouldn't necessarily say conflict) between various races and cultures, as they live closer and closer to each other. At the same time, political correctness makes these explorations perilous for writers who dare to write at depth about cultures not their own. Writing “for your nation” or “your own race” can be hard enough but writing “for anybody,” for people of any nation or ethnic group who can potentially read one's book, is a very serious undertaking. I have a soft spot for every book written “for anybody.”
As an author who has published several books in English and other languages, what does it feel like to have your writing translated and read in a language that’s foreign to you?
I am always very happy when this happens. Sometimes it can be an eye-opening experience since, through the understanding or misunderstanding of your books by people of other cultures you learn a lot about your own.
What do you think Czech literature as a whole brings to the wider literary landscape? What unique perspective does it provide?
Well, I would like to say that we are quite unique as a nation (just like every other nation, I am afraid). We are supposedly blessed with the gift of "typical Czech humor" (such as seen in The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek) and a keen sense of the absurd and the supple beauty of everyday life (such as demonstrated by everything written by Bohumil Hrabal). We may have a sense of a kind of dark poetry (to be found in Jáchym Topol's City Sister Silver for instance). However, as I read a lot of foreign books, too, I can tell that many other nations have writers of comparable qualities and comparable world views. I would therefore prefer to view the Czech literature (and every other national literature) as a set of individual writers rather than some kind of nationwide idea. I have lost belief in some kind of "national character" and I prefer to look at every nation as a group of individuals rather than "typical representatives" of that nation. The same goes for national literatures, too.