Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
Finalist for Concordia University First Book Prize in 2014
Winner of The Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction in 2014
The New Face of Fiction for 2014, Us Conductors is a beautiful, haunting, brilliant novel inspired by the true life and loves of the Russian scientist, inventor and spy Lev Termen—creator of the theremin.
In a finely woven series of flashbacks and correspondence, Us Conductors takes us from the glitz and glam of New York in the 1930s to the gulags and scientific camps of the Soviet Union. Lev Termen is imprisoned on a ship steaming its way from New York City to the Soviet Union. He is writing a letter to his “one true love,” Clara Rockmore, the finest theremin player in the world. From there we learn Termen’s story: his early days as a scientist in Leningrad, and the acclaim he received as the inventor of the theremin, eventually coming to New York under the aegis of the Russian state. There he stays, teaching eager music students, making his name, and swiftly falling in love with Clara. But it isn’t long until he has fallen in with Russian spooks, slipping through the shadows of a budding Cold War, with cold-blooded results. The novel builds to a crescendo as Termen returns to Russia, where he is imprisoned in a Siberian gulag and later brought to Moscow, tasked with eavesdropping on Stalin himself. Us Conductors is a book of longing and electricity. Like Termen’s own life, it is steeped in beauty, wonder and looping heartbreak. How strong is unrequited love? What does it mean when it is the only thing keeping you alive? This sublime debut inhabits the idea of invention on every level, no more so than in its depiction of Termen’s endless feelings for Clara—against every realistic odd. For what else is love, but the greatest invention of all?
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