Esteemed big league publisher Knopf Canada have a special line of books under a moniker called “The New Face of Fiction.” The goal of the series is to bring “spectacular first-time Canadian novelists to readers.” It has launched the careers of acclaimed Canadian authors like Ann-Marie MacDonald, Yann Martel, Mary Lawson, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Dionne Brand, Timothy Taylor, Nicolas Dickner, Ami McKay, and St. John’s very own Jessica Grant.
The latest Canadian to spring from this series onto the shelves of a bookstore near you is Sean Michaels’s Us Conductors. Sean is already world famous, at least among music lovers: he was a founder of Said the Gramophone — one of the world’s first and most popular tastemaking music blogs.
Sean’s novel is inspired by the “true life and loves of the Russian scientist, inventor, and spy Lev Termen – creator of the theremin.” (A theremin is a very bizarre instrument played without touching it.)
The story is delivered as a series of flashbacks and correspondence that takes readers “from the glitz and glam of New York in the 1930s to the gulags and scientific camps of the Soviet Union.”
He’s a music teacher in New York, making his name and falling madly for a lady named Clara. But he ends up in trouble with some Russian spooks, and finds himself imprisoned on a ship steaming its way from New York City to the Soviet Union.
He’s writing a letter to a lover, Clara Rockmore, who happens to be the finest theremin player in the world. The novel tells the story of Termen’s early days as a scientist in Leningrad, and the acclaim he received as the inventor of the theremin, eventually coming to New York under the aegis of the Russian state.
“Termen returns to Russia, where he is imprisoned in a Siberian gulag and later brought to Moscow, tasked with eavesdropping on Stalin himself. Us Conductors is a book of longing and electricity. Like Termen’s own life, it is steeped in beauty, wonder and looping heartbreak.”
The novel is largely a meditation on unrequited love. “This sublime debut inhabits the idea of invention on every level, no more so than in its depiction of Termen’s endless feelings for Clara – against every realistic odd.”
CBC Canada Reads winner Nicolas Dickner, whose career was launched by Knopf’s New Face of Fiction series called Sean’s debut “an amazing, addictive novel, written with a sharp sense of rhythm.”
“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