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Us Conductors Paperback – Deckle Edge, Apr 8 2014

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Paperback, Deckle Edge, Apr 8 2014
CDN$ 799.29 CDN$ 13.02 First Novel Award - 6 Canadian Novels Make the Shortlist

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Canada (April 8 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345813324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345813329
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.4 x 23.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #63,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


WINNER 2014 - The Scotiabank Giller Prize
FINALIST 2014 – Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction

FINALIST 2014 – Concordia University First Book Prize

“Following the life of Leon Termen, the inventor of the theremin, Us Conductors takes the reader from Leningrad to New York City, from gulags to speakeasies, dance floors and concert stages to laboratories and cattle cars. Us Conductors stretches its arms to encompass nearly everything—it is an immigrant tale, an epic, a spy intrigue, a prison confession, an inventor’s manual, a creation myth, and an obituary—but the electric current humming through its heart is an achingly resonant love story. Sean Michaels orchestrates his first novel like a virtuoso.”
—Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“A fascinating novel! Told with grace and confidence, and in a finely wrought voice, Us Conductors kept surprising me to the end. I was swept from the speakeasies and artistic fervor of 1930s Manhattan to bleak, secretive Soviet Union prisons, and never once was the illusion shattered. Throughout the story, the themes of love and music sing like the pure, ethereal notes of the theremin.” 
—Eowyn Ivey, author of the New York Times bestseller The Snow Child
“Sean Michaels revisits the story of Lev Termen with just the right amount of distortion and invention, drawing a fascinating parabola through the Roaring Twenties and down into the Cold War. An amazing, addictive novel, written with a sharp sense of rhythm.”
—Nicolas Dickner, author of Nikolski and Apocalypse for Beginners
“DZEEEEOOOoo! Just as hard as it is to make a theremin sing so it is hard to pull off a novel like this. But Sean Michaels does it. Us Conductors bridges body and soul, science and art, and like theremin music, it’s of this world and magical at the same time.”
—Ismet Prcic, author of Shards

“Michaels does an excellent job delving into Termen’s one true obsession, Clara, reflecting his never-ending inner dialogue with her that continues for days, months, years. . . . Whatever picture Michaels is trying to paint, he does so with great accuracy and potency. . . . Us Conductors is a novel of epic proportions and as we jump back and forth through time, Michaels engrosses the reader with well-thought-out imagery that paints pictures of vastly different scenes. . . . To come totally clean here, I forgot I wasn’t reading an autobiography and took in the story as if it were historical fact. . . . Michaels has a natural gift for bringing us to a time and place which allows the suspension of belief and lets you walk every step of the way with him.”
—Brendan Canning, The Globe and Mail

“I’ve been awaiting a book by Sean Michaels for a decade, ever since he helped create not only the online MP3 blog but his own form of criticism—imaginative, bird-like devices of prose that soar in and out of the paths of songs. In his novel, Us Conductors, Michaels finds his ideal subject in another inventor, the enigmatic Leon Termen, who with softly lit-up wisdom calls himself ‘a sound being sounded, music being made,’ amid the noise of history. Michaels’ voice will pass through you like live current and conduct you to parts unknown.”
—Carl Wilson, music critic for and author of the acclaimed Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste

About the Author

Sean Michaels was born in Stirling, Scotland, in 1982. Raised in Ottawa, he eventually settled in Montreal, founding Said the Gramophone, one of the earliest music blogs. He has since spent time in Edinburgh and Kraków, writ­ten for the Guardian and McSweeney’s, toured with rock bands, searched the Parisian catacombs for Les UX, and received 2 National Magazine Awards.

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Customer Reviews

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By kit malo on May 15 2014
Format: Paperback
This novel manages to dance on the wire between sentimental and distant in a way that is compellingly unique, all the while carving out an impression of a very confused and fascinating time in both the United States and what was then the Soviet Union.

Based on Michaels' articulate, expansive, distilled and discreet (yes, all are possible at this feast!) telling of the story of Lev Theremin, I have now gone on to begin books on Soviet Gulags and other historical elements of this era. His storytelling is just that damn good - it opens up an entire landscape that calls to be discovered long after the last notes of his book play out.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn TOP 500 REVIEWER on Dec 17 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Not having a good ear for music and lacking a musical background, I was reluctant to start this book. Was unsure I had ever heard the theremin being played, so did lots of homework before beginning this Giller prize winning novel. Videos are readily available on internet; present day musicians playing different types of music on the theremin, and even an old video of Clara Rockmore playing , and Termen demonstrating his original invention.
Lev Termen invented the therimen around 1920 in Russia where he lived. It has been called the strangest musical instrument. The player does not touch this unique and eerie instrument but moves their hands through an electric current to produce music which seems to come out of the ether.
Us Conductors is the first novel by Sean Michaels, and is a fictionalized, award winning take on Termen's life and times. In reading history of Termen many of the major facts in this book actually happened,but his thoughts and conversations depend on the author's imagination. Termen married three times. I was unable to find evidence of his lifelong obsession and love of Clara Blackmore, a much younger American girl who becomes idolized as the world's greatest theremin player. However, he does return to America from Russia at age 95 and visits with her, so she had clearly been on his mind all those years.
While living in St. Petersburg in the 1920's , he not only invented the theremin to great acclaim and to which Lenin was a great fan, but also invented an early metal detector, a motion detector and a listening device used for spying. He was called the Thomas Edison of Russia.
He travels through Europe and then to America in hopes of popularizing the theremin and having it mass produced.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ruth in Ottawa on June 29 2014
Format: Paperback
What a wonderful book. I was immediately drawn into the story, and wanted to learn more about this mysterious theremin, about which I knew nothing. Although Termen was famous in his own right, having him tell his own story made him seem much more ordinary - which made what he did and what he lived through seem so much more extraordinary. The author took me through historical times and places that were at times exhilarating, emotional, enlightening and always entertaining. Sean Michaels has a way with words that compelled me to reread several passages because I loved the way the words flowed and the images they created. I'm already anxious to see what his second novel will bring.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Sherman on May 15 2014
Format: Paperback
A true pleasure to read! I couldn't put it down. Us Conductor renders the world of early 20th century New York and Russia wonderfully, and creates a truly brilliant character in Leon Theremin.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By cleo on March 23 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
I'm surprised at all the enthusiastic reviews and that this was chosen for the Giller prize. Both my book club and my husband were underwhelmed. The plot should be a winner, but the execution felt too sketchy.

The first half feels quite detached and more of a perfunctory recounting of the events in his life. Despite being set in pre-Depression New York, he does not do the city or the time period justice. Feels quite remote. I'd be curious to know if this is a deliberate choice, to convey a surreal quality to his high living capitalist American life vs. his oppressive and persecuted existence in Russia when he loses his political protectors. But if so, it’s odd as his lack of control over his destiny is no different in America or Russia. Deliberate or not, the writing style was for the most part not engaging.

The second half of the book does pull you into Theremin's life and circumstances much more effectively, but the novel still has a rambling, unsatisfactory feel to it. This story, especially with the tremendous liberties taken with Theremin's life should have been utterly fascinating, but we all felt we had to push ourselves to read it. One interesting aspect of the book is that the writer has Theremin serve as the narrator and one intriguing aspect of the book is that the format is to recount his story as if he were addressing his thoughts to his muse.

By the time you reach the end, you don't feel you know his character anymore than when you first meet him. Maybe that’s the point, that he is nothing more than the channel for everyone else’s desires and machinations so he gets lost in his role as the facilitator, but he doesn’t seem to grasp that. He just feels and acts like a shell of a man all the way through. Nevertheless, the reader shouldn’t feel like they are just reading a shell of a book.
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