A Ticket to the Stars

by Vassily Aksyonov
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 342

As a group of friends prepares to graduate from high school, they face decisions about their future. Set in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the novel highlights the dilemmas of the generation that came of age after the Second World War. Dimka and three of his friends decide to take a gap year and explore their country before settling into pursuing their career plans. Although their families are not pleased, each of the teenagers—three boys and one girl—feel they need this voyage of self-discovery. In Dimka’s case, his older brother, Victor, is as important an influence as his parents are. Victor can better relate to the idea that duty comes first, as he remembers the wartime privations, but he too must make independent ethical decisions.

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Yurka, Alik, and Gayla all join with Dimka in a plan to travel extensively, or become “kilometer eaters.” Gayla, the only girl, wants to pursue acting; during the trip she and Dimka become a couple. Yurka is the athletic member of the group, while Alik is the artistic one. They metaphorically call it a quest for their “lucky star,” which turns out (at least temporarily) to shine over Estonia. In a small Baltic Sea town, they get low-paying working-class jobs; for the boys this means going out on a fishing trawler. Despite the enjoyable seaside atmosphere, they must stave off the tedium of the work-a-day world. Dimka grows jealous when Gayla meets a middle-aged actor who tries to seduce her with offers of helping her career.

Victor’s story of pursuing an advanced degree is interspersed with the younger characters’ adventures. When his research to conclusions vary with expectations, he makes an ethical decision not to finish his degree but to chart his own research path. While involved in the practical side of his research, Victor dies in an aircraft accident. This news propels Dimka to return to Moscow and rethink his life. The reader sees him prepared to find and commit to his own true calling as his brother had done.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 809

A Ticket to the Stars is the story of four young Russians who, after graduation from high school, find themselves at a crossroads, undecided about their future. Dimka, Yurka, Alik, and the only girl among them, Galya, all seventeen years old, are tired of school and so are not interested in attending college, at least for the present. Yurka is a good athlete, Alik writes poetry, Galya has acting ambitions, and Dimka is a well-rounded young man without any special aspirations. Dimka’s older brother, Victor, is a space scientist who would like to help him decide about his future. Victor would like to see Dimka go to college because he firmly believes in Dimka’s abilities.

The young people spend their days wandering around, doing nothing constructive, and discussing the possibility of going away from Moscow; it does not matter where, as long as it is away from home. The apartment house where they live, their parents, older relatives, and the authorities all fill them with boredom and a desire to rebel. Dimka does not want to follow in his successful brother’s steps. His words speak for the group as a whole:Victor, it was Pa and Ma who planned your life for you while you were still kicking in your cradle.... In your whole life you’ve never even once taken an important decision, never accepted a serious risk. To hell with that! Before we’re even born, everything is worked out for us, our whole future is all mapped out.... I’d rather be a tramp and suffer all sorts of setbacks than go through my whole life being a nice little boy doing what others tell me.

The group finally decides to go west, toward the Baltic coast, leaving everything to chance and to their lucky star. Victor realizes that he cannot change their minds and reluctantly resigns himself to their decision. They become “kilometer eaters” and in a few days on a train reach a small Estonian town on the Baltic Sea. Enjoying full freedom for the first time in their lives, they feel exalted and intoxicated by the fresh sea air; the provisions from home are still plentiful. Nevertheless, pangs of homesickness and anxiety begin to gnaw at them. They meet all types of people: some dubious characters, some honest workers. They take on menial jobs, more out of boredom than out of necessity, although their money is slowly running out. In addition, Galya and Dimka admit for the first time that they are emotionally involved, which complicates matters because they are living as a group. The three boys eventually find jobs with a fishing trawler and go out to sea every morning, coming back late in the afternoon. In the meantime, Galya has made the acquaintance of a middle-aged actor who promises to help her start her acting career. Dimka is visibly unhappy about this change, yet he is unable to prevent her from becoming involved with the actor.

Back in Moscow, Victor is debating whether to defend his dissertation in nuclear physics even though he has discovered new material that would render his dissertation subject obsolete. His advising professor urges him on, in order to get the diploma, but Victor, for the first time in his life and undoubtedly under the influence of his younger brother’s independent spirit, decides to forgo the official title and pursue his independent research instead.

Dimka is also pleased with his freedom despite his setback with Galya, the hard work in the fishing co-op, and being too busy to enjoy the company of his friends. He is aware that this is not exactly what he and his friends had hoped for, yet he realizes that this is real life and that he has finally experienced it. He does not want to go back to his life in Moscow. Galya soon decides to come back to him, having been disappointed by her actor friend, who was apparently a fraud. Just as life begins to seem settled, Dimka receives a telegram informing him that his brother has been killed in an air crash while pursuing his duties as a space engineer.

Dimka returns home alone, having said good-bye to his boyhood and his adolescent dreams of freedom and independence. His brother’s death has forced him to grow up overnight. He realizes now that his brother has left him a legacy that he cannot ignore. There are ways one can be both independent and dutiful without obeying others’ commands. As he looks at the evening sky from the window of their home, he sees the same stars that his brother must have seen for the last time. He knows that Victor has left him a ticket to the stars, which he must pursue even though he does not know yet where that ticket will take him.

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