Bookshots: 'Us Conductors' by Sean Michaels

Bookshots: 'Us Conductors' by Sean Michaels

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Title:

Us Conductors

Who Wrote it:

Music critic Sean Michaels, founder of the blog Said the Gramophone.

Plot in a Box:

A truly impressive debut novel that captivated my attention and emotions throughout the entire journey.

Follow the unexpected journey of the inventor of the Theremin from Moscow to Prohibition New York to a gulag in the Russian taiga. There's a love story and espionage too.

Invent a new title for this book:

I Raised My Arms and Out Fell My Heart

Read this if you like:

Margaret Atwood's novels.

Meet the book's lead:

Lev Sergeyevich Termen is an enthusiastic scientist navigating a world in which he has very little control. His love for a young violinist-turned-Thereminist helps him survive even the most desperate circumstances.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Jude Law would suit nicely.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

1920's New York with lots of money? Absolutely. Stalinist labor camp? Not so much.

What was your favorite sentence?

You were spinning back toward me, hot and amber, and when our bodies touched you murmured, “Hi, Leon.” And I thought, It will be like this. Now, in a bare room across the world, I leave commas on the page,,,,like eyelashes.

The Verdict:

Bravo Sean Michaels! A truly impressive debut novel that captivated my attention and emotions throughout the entire journey.

Students of music history will love the historical dramatization of their favorite musicians. Theremin serves tea to Martenot and drinks hooch with Tommy Dorsey and Jascha Heifetz. Michaels does such a great job of bringing late 1920's and early 1930's New York to life that the reader is as devastated as the narrator when he is extracted from his colorful existence there. Anyone who has read Viktor Frankl or other holocaust survivors' testimonies will find the labor camp and prison sections believable. Theremin's world becomes desaturated and we see it in the tiny details he calls to mind from his past: stationery shops, crates of oranges, ballet dancers.

Fans of traditional spy novels, this is not for you. Lev's work for the Soviet state is his trade-off for the years of visas his minders manage to procure for him in America. He is uneasy, nervous, and ambivalent about this work, but what can he do? Really, Us Conductors is a love story, and it will break your heart.

Image of Us Conductors: A Novel
Author: Sean Michaels
Price: $14.36
Publisher: Tin House Books (2014)
Binding: Paperback, 464 pages
Stephanie Bonjack

Review by Stephanie Bonjack

Stephanie Bonjack is an academic librarian based in Boulder, Colorado. She teaches the relentless pursuit of information, and illuminates the path to discovery. She has presented at national and international library conferences, and is especially interested in how libraries evolve to serve the needs of 21st century patrons. When she’s not sleuthing in the stacks, she enjoys chasing her toddler across wide open spaces.

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