Nominated by:

Calgary Public Library, Canada

Halifax Public Libraries, Canada

Publisher of nominated edition:

Random House Canada

Us Conductors

Sean Michaels    

2016 Longlist

A beautiful, haunting novel inspired by the true life and loves of the famed Russian scientist, inventor and spy Lev Termen – creator of the theremin.

Us Conductors takes us from the glamour of Jazz Age New York to the gulags and science prisons of the Soviet Union. On a ship steaming its way from Manhattan back to Leningrad, Lev Termen writes a letter to his “one true love”, Clara Rockmore, telling her the story of his life. Imprisoned in his cabin, he recalls his early years as a scientist, inventing the theremin and other electric marvels, and the Kremlin’s dream that these inventions could be used to infiltrate capitalism itself. Instead, New York infiltrated Termen – he fell in love with the city’s dance clubs and speakeasies, with the students learning his strange instrument, and with Clara, a beautiful young violinist. Amid ghostly sonatas, kung-fu tussles, brushes with Chaplin and Rockefeller, a mission to Alcatraz, the novel builds to a crescendo: Termen’s spy games fall apart and he is forced to return home, where he’s soon consigned to a Siberian gulag. Only his wits can save him, but they will also plunge him even deeper toward the dark heart of Stalin’s Russia.

Us Conductors is a book of longing and electricity. Like Termen’s own life, it is steeped in beauty, wonder and looping heartbreak.

(from publisher)

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.

Librarians’ Comments

In a finely woven series of flashbacks and correspondence, Lev Termen, the Russian scientist, inventor, and spy, tells the story of his life with his “one true love”, Clara Rockmore, the finest theremin player in the world. This lyrical debut is a magical combination of literature, music, science and romance.

Us Conductors has a mystical, ethereal quality much like the instrument invented by the novel’s subject Leon Termen – the theremin. The story takes the reader from the glamour of prohibition era New York to Soviet labour camps. A sweeping story, richly detailed and complex.

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