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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Reader's Diary #2091- Sean Michaels: Us Conductors

I have a thing for rare, unusual musical instruments and the theremin is one of my favourites. I mentioned this recently to a friend of mine who suggested I read Sean Michaels' Us Conductors, a historical novel based upon the Russian inventor Lev Termen.

Largely why the book works so well though isn't the allure of this odd instrument, but the odd character of Termen. On the one hand he's a scientist, full of facts and figures. On the other he's a romantic. The latter, however, also makes him rather annoying. It's a story of unrequited love, told by Termen to the object of his desire, Clara Rockmore, one of the few world masters of the theremin. Annoying, by the way, isn't a critique of the book but rather the authentic type of toxic masculinity in which men can't take no for an answer. Not a surprising personality trait coming from a guy that literally found something that wasn't there in the music of his invention. It's also a trait that arguably kept him alive. Once he's sent to the Siberian gulags for being mistaken as a spy against Russia (he was, in fact, a spy for Russia), it's arguably the misguided hope for a reunion with Clara that keeps him going.

Spies, weird musical instruments, unrequited love? It sounds like it should be a wonderful novel. And I did enjoy it, but I did find it at times to be unfocused, a bit of, "all this for what?" Still Michaels' writing was crisp and his attention to detail was quite engaging.

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