A first novel from the Czech-born Pek†rkov†, now an N.Y.C. cabdriver, follows the story of 25-year-old Prague resident Fialka- -a part-time student, part-time nature photographer (specializing in deformed flowers and other oddities), and more-than-occasional hitchhiker— who is determined to go her own way. But in the still dreary Marxist Czechoslovakia of the 1980's, that's no easy program: instead, she finds herself struggling uphill against faceless uncheer by means of her body (she begins to take on long- distance truckers who drive the northern and southern cross-country highways—tricks that leave her feeling free if at an eventual cost) and by her post-hippie ideals (``I'd had the goal of not dreaming, but living, remaining unblunted, childlike, young...within the boundaries of the space allotted to me, it had been my goal to love, feel, survive, and, in the end, just to be''). Two men, though, are the poles of her life—her best platonic pal, Patrik, dying of multiple sclerosis; and Erik, a Swedish traveler with whom she falls in love. Both she must ultimately renounce, ever onward in her quest for ``rainbows.'' Fialka's self-pity is hard to take (as is Pek†rkov†'s prose- style: half mock-Kerouac, half Hallmark Card), but the Czechoslovakia the book presents is of interest: it isn't the decaying sophistication of Kundera, or the ironic memory-pastoral of Skvorecky, but a polluted, prefab wasteland of truck- and industrial-fumes, of poor-quality food, of wretched public transportation. The determined and spangled preenings that Pek†rkov† has her character perform are against this backdrop—and the contrast is notable.
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