WW II shaped Gagarin’s career | Sunday Observer

WW II shaped Gagarin’s career

6 December, 2020

Road to the Stars is the autobiography of Yuri Gagarin,the first person to orbit Earth (on 12 April 1961). Like any other autobiography it's also a nostalgic,heart-warming and charming book, but there is a difference in this book. It is the autobiography of the world's first cosmonaut and it reveals an extraordinary setting which led to create a great man in human history.

Early life

The book is characterised by its heart-warming, humanistic voice, through which Gagarin is able to convey such a tender and touching recounting of his life. It starts like this:

“… I was born into a simple family that differs in no way from millions of other working families in our land of socialism. My parents are plain Russian people for whom the Great October Socialist Revolution had opened up the way to a new and promising life.

“My father, Alexei Ivanovich Gagarin, was the son of a poor Smolensk peasant. All the education he received was two years at a parish school. He is, however, a man who has always been eager to learn and he has done much to educate himself; In our village of Klushino, not far from the town of Gzhatsk, he was known as a man who could turn his hand to anything. He could do any job on the farm, but mostly he preferred to work as carpenter and joiner. I still remember the yellow ribbons of shavings that seemed to swirl round his big worker's hands; I can still tell the different sorts of wood by their smell - sweet-smelling maple, bitter oak and cloying pine from which my father used to make all sorts of useful things. (Page 5)

The author has a special ability to create mental images through his descriptions. The memories are captivating and the language is simple.Therefore, it is not boring for the reader throughout the book to read it;

“I was born on March 9, 1934. My parents worked on the collective farm (kolkhoz), my father as a carpenter and my mother as a dairy maid. Being a good worker she was appointed manager of the kolkhoz dairy farm. She worked from morning to night, there was always something to do – cows calving, the youngsters to be looked after, and fodder to see about.

“Our village was very beautiful, all green in summer and white with deep snow in winter. The kolkhoz was a good one and the people were well off. Our house was the second from the village end, on the road to Gzhatsk. We had a few apple and cherry-trees, and some gooseberry and black-currant bushes in the garden. Beyond the house there was a big meadow where we barefooted children used to play ball and 'odd man out'." (Page 6)

War experiences

Then the author describes his childhood experiences during t the Second World War:

“Events developed rapidly. More and more columns of lorries and convoys of wounded passed through the village. Everybody began to talk about evacuation. There was no time to be lost. The first to leave was Uncle Pavel with the kolkhoz herds. My mother and father were also packing up for the road, but they were too late. Artillery roared like thunder, the sky was red with the glow of conflagrations, when Germans entered our village unexpectedly on bicycles. The uproar they caused was indescribable. They began searching the houses, looking for partisans, and under cover of their search they looted the houses, not disdaining even clothing and footwear.(Page 10)

In his he war memories he particularly mentions one incident which gives us immense insights into the moulding of Yuri's heroic character. Once they saw six Soviet planes flying over. They heard the explosions of the bombs the pilots dropped and when the planes returned they saw one was missing. Next they could see it was coming, but it was on fire. It flew right over the street that was packed with soldiers, all its guns blazing away.

“We were wondering whether it would get back or not when the pilot turned his machine and flew along the column again. This time he (pilot) showered bombs on the Germans. Then he crashed his machine right into the thick of their convoy.

“Like Gastello! Like Gastello! we shouted.

“The plane burned up and the pilot with it. Nobody in our village ever found out who he was or where he had come from. But one thing everyone knew – he was a real Soviet hero. He fought the enemy to his very last breath. All day the boys talked about of nothing but the unknown hero. Nobody said so aloud, but every oneof us wanted to live like him and die for our country “. (Page 13)

Literary interest

Yuri Gagarin was a communist, but at the same time his character was also shaped up by the world's worst war experiences, and on the other hand the world's best classical literature – Russian literature – influenced him very much. When he was reading Leo Tolstoy's Prioner in the Caucases he was just schooling. Then he read Pushkin, Lermontov, Gorky and Gogol. Because of the war experiences and the influence of literature it is not surprising that he was into socialism or communism. Without such strong political beliefs he wouldn't have acquired that sort of great discipline to ascend to orbit Earth.

His literary interest apparently developed his writing skills too. Definitely, he would have been a great storyteller if he lived longer. However, it is apparent from his accounts that the book had undergone a thorough editing by theUSSR state officers or censors. Though Yuri Gagarin was a communist, his advocacy towards the Russian Socialism is an over-recurrent voice in the book which leads us to think that the book was underwent more severe editing. It is also a pity that Yuri Gagarin died while on a routine training flight at the age of 34 on 27 March 1968. According to a biography of Gagarin by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin, the KGB worked “not just alongside the Air Force and the official commission members but against them.

Descending from space

Towards the end of the book, the author describes his landing on the earth after completing his revolutionary and historic journey of the space:

“At 10 hours 55 minutes, the Vostok, having completed its orbit round the earth, landed safely in a predetermined area, on a ploughed field of the Leninsky Put (Lenin's Path) Collective Farm, which is situated to the south-west of the towns of Engels, near the village of Smelovka… As I stepped on the firm soil, I saw a woman and girl. They were standing beside a spotted calf and gazing at me with curiosity. I started walking towards them and they began to walk towards me. But the nearer they got to me the slower their steps became. I was still wearing my flaming orange spacesuit and they were probably frightened by it. They had never seen anything like it before.

“'I'm a Russian, comrades, I'm a Russian,' I shouted, taking off my helmet.

“The woman was Anna Takhtarova, wife of the local forester, and the girl, Rita, was her granddaughter.

“'Have you really come from outer space?' she asked a little uncertainty.

“'Just imagine it, I certainly have,' I replied.

“'It's Yuri Gagarin! It's Yuri Gagarin!' cried some machine-operaters, who had run up from a field camp.

“They were the first people I met on earth after my flight. We embraced and kissed as though we were relatives." (Page 161)