Filled with indignant ambition, Karl Kessel leaps at the opportunity to leave his life of servitude in Yugoslavia for the American frontier. Blindly going forth, he leaves his wife, Katja, and their two children. He sends for them once he is settled in Wyoming on a small farm.
Katja is disappointed with Wyoming. The barren land is foreboding and the farm house is several steps down from what she's was used to. Karl promises her he'll build her a new home as soon as he can afford it. But Karl is obsessed with gaining wealth and while he invests in horses, livestock, and land, he never builds her a house.
Katja has several children and is forced to work the fields. She misses her family and resents Karl for the hard life he's forced upon her. She's also dismayed with Karl's cruel streak. He treats her and the children badly, using them as tools to further his wealth more than anything else.
Eventually, Katja finds the strength to stand up to him. She forces Karl to build her a new home and makes him reign in his cruelty to a degree. They live through the trials of the Great Depression then on through World War II. With the deaths of certain loved ones, Katja's resentment toward Karl grows into hatred. As they age, their children are forced to confront the demise of their parents.
The Ticket spans decades. It reveals Katja and Karl's lives from childhood to death. During this time frame, epic changes occurred. Automobiles and indoor plumbing became the norm. Women's and men's roles were well defined and hard work was the norm.
For me, it was uncomfortable witnessing Katja's and Karl's entire lives. While they were alive, I hoped one or the other would find happiness, that Karl might try to redeem himself, or that Katja might enjoy life, instead they both lived out their late years unhappy.
I very much enjoyed the rich descriptions and, what I assume was, historical accuracy. Given this story is based on the author's great grandparents, it's interesting from a day-in-the-life perspective. From a fiction point of view, I'd have preferred to see more character growth rather than the slow, steady decline of Katja's spirit. Although Karl mellowed in his later years, his mean streak and selfishness stayed in place, making him particularly unlikeable.
The Ticket to freedom and opportunity is an American family saga.
When Karl Kessel receives another man's ticket to emigrate from Germany he leaves behind his young wife and two small sons, all for the promise of the opportunity he covets. Arriving in America, Karl is obsessed with becoming the owner of a farm - to be his own man.
When Karl's wife Katja steps off a train with their sons in the wilds of sparsely settled Wyoming, she questions, ''Is this where I am to spend my life?'' Katja soon discovers that it is not only the geography of her situation which will make her life difficult, as she gives everything her husband demands of her, but it is never enough.
In her debut novel, Karen Schutte spins a compelling family story, based on the true story of her own great grandparents' life in rural Wyoming. Her unvarnished narrative exposes the harsh realities of life in the last century.
The Ticket is an unforgettable and touching account of a true American family, filled with ambition, promises, love and loss, and ultimately, a legacy of survival.