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Us Conductors

Sean Michaels' Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning novel was inspired by the life of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the Russian inventor of the theremin.

Sean Michaels

Sean Michaels' debut novel Us Conductors is inspired by the life of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the Russian inventor of the eerily beautiful theremin, taking him from the rambunctious New York clubs of the 1930s to the bleak gulags of the Soviet Union. The story, which is told through a love letter penned by Termen to the love of his life, Clara, is a colourful, creative ode to invention and how it intersects and affects beauty, science, art, love and life.

Us Conductors won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2014.

Read an excerpt | Author interviews

From the book

I was Leon Termen before I was Dr Theremin, and before I was Leon, I was Lev Sergeyvich. The instrument that is now known as a theremin could as easily have been called a leon, a lyova, a sergeyvich. It could have been called a clara, after its greatest player. Pash liked termenvox. He liked its connotations of science and authority. But this name always made me laugh. Termenvox — the voice of Termen. As if this device replicated my own voice. As if the theremin's trembling soprano were the song of this scientist from Leningrad.

I laughed at this notion, and yet in a way I think I also believed it. Not that the theremin emulated my voice, but that with it I gave voice to something. To the invisible. To the ether. I, Lev Sergeyvich Termen, mouthpiece of the universe.


From Us Conductors by Sean Michaels ©2014. Published by Random House Canada.

Author interviews

Sean Michaels just, against many odds, won the Giller prize for his debut novel. But not many people know he's an Ottawa native. All in a Day checked in with the newly minted literary star. 9:39
Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels joins Brent to discuss four songs that inspired him while writing his first book, "Us Conductors." 8:34

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