'I come from Leningrad. With my bare hands, I have killed one man. I was born on August 15, 1896, and at that instant I became an object moving through space toward you.' Locked in a cabin, on a ship bound for Leningrad, Lev Termen types a letter to Clara, his 'one true love' and remembers his early years as a brilliant young scientist. Inventor of the ethereal, musical theremin, Termen performed in the gilded concert halls of Russia and Europe to rapturous applause. The toast of the Soviet Union, he was sent to New York with a plan to infiltrate capitalism itself, to win its heart and capture its secrets. But instead, Manhattan infiltrates Termen and in the city of dreams he rubs shoulders with Gershwin and Rachmaninoff, the Rockefellers and the Astors, Charlie Chaplin and Glenn Miller, and dances night after night with the beautiful young violinist Clara Rockmore
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The grace of Michaels's style makes these times and places seem entirely new. He succeeds at one of the hardest things a writer can do: he makes music seem to sing from the pages of a novel||Told with grace and confidence, and in a finely wrought voice, Us Conductors kept surprising me to the end||Turns out Sean Michaels might not be able to play the theremin, but he can record the noise of the human heart||Michaels has a natural gift for bringing us to a time and place which allows the suspension of belief and lets you walk every step of the way with him||Michaels is clearly a fine writer . Even with the legacies of Solzhenitsyn towering over him, Michaels brilliantly captures the abject misery and surreal menace of life in the Soviet Union. Termen's level tone serves to amplify the monstrosity of the gulags, and there's a streak of pure Russian gallows humour . There's no doubt that Michaels has found some extraordinary stories here, and they are well worth retelling||An enticing, cross-continental escapade buzzing with the electric energy of the Jazz Age . It takes the real account of a life that was in no way short of excitement and inserts a few pulpier flourishes - a little kung-fu here, a murder or two there - to ramp it up into a really good time. It's a romantic tale set in a highly romanticisable period and while the plot is a flurry of noise and motion under the big city lights, it also has a quiet, reflective side: though its story stands right in the middle of world history in one of its most tumultuous periods, the novel never loses track of the man at the centre of the madness. It's the heartfelt humanity of Lev and the lens through which the novel views him that makes it so compelling||Elegant and grippingly told . This is a rich and satisfying read||Clever, and hugely entertaining||A rich, sensitive account of a particular historical milieu - or rather, of several - structured like the music of a theremin . the tone, though never less than elegant||A wonderful book ... His story is so extraordinary and so beautifully and deftly told it is heartbreaking
Observer, Books of the Year 2015