A Ticket to the Stars

by Vassily Aksyonov

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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.

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