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I will be on vacation from August 8-14th. Blog updates will resume on August 15th.

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Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
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Us Conductors: 08/01/17

Us Conductors  by Sean Michaels

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels won the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize and is a book I plan to go back and read with greater concentration at a time when I'm not actively trying to pack up all my worldly possessions to move. So keep in mind that the one star doesn't mean awful, terrible, do not attempt; it means I did not feel compelled to finish it. I do this to differentiate never read books from unfinished books on sites like GoodReads.

Us Conductors is an off beat historical fiction about the man behind the Theremin — and his obsession with a violinist. Told from Lev Thermen's point of view, it chronicles his life in Russia, his invention, and his work in the United States. It tells of RCA Victor's plans to sell home Theremins and how the Great Depression nixed those plans. Who wants a strange electrical device that can play music only for the most musically inclined when jobs and food are scarce and nearly everyone is losing their home?

Michaels for reasons that escape me — decided to embellish Thermen's life. The most glaring example of this is having him study kung fu. I feel that some of my disconnect on this first go with the book is that this fictional Thermen is too much the author's creation. He took a few key points in the inventor's life and then created his own path between those points.

But that path — for the third I read before send the book to storage (for now) was rather dryly described. There's very little spark to Thermen. Even with his apparent, neverending torch for Clara, he's a monotone narrator. Here's the thing — inventors and musicians — at least all the ones I've met — are passionate about their creations. Except for a couple paragraphs here and there, I didn't find any of that passion coming from either Lev or Clara.

So why am I willing to give this book a second go at some later date? That's nostalgia on my part. We were on our first family trip to Canada to spend Christmas with relatives in Vancouver. We had just crossed the border and were stuck in traffic at the tunnel that leads into the city. Though we have satellite radio, we chose to listen to the CBC instead. They were broadcasting an interview with the author. This was the same year that we had also visited OMSI in Portland, which has a Theremin on hand for visitors to try. It's not something that a person who "can't carry a tun in a basket" can pick up. I believe under the right circumstances (namely, not being under a deadline to pack up all my books for a move) I will enjoy this book.

One star

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 17:11:33


Interesting topic. I was fascinated with Theremins once. Even wanted to make one. Too bad the book disappointed.

Comment #2: Friday, August 11, 2017 at 19:22:00


It wasn't the right time for the book. The move and putting the house on the market is taking too much of my time and energy to spend with books that need to be read slowly.

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