Sean Michaels - Us Conductors

It seems a little strange that two Giller Book Prize winners in three years wrote epic historical fiction works about musicians living under the rise of violent Communist states. I guess your take on it depends whether you read Michaels or Thien first, but what are the chances that such an obscure genre would even exist?

I wish I’d read these books a bit further apart, to avoid the inevitable comparisons. They really are quite different. 

Michaels’ style is strong and compelling and I could picture every moment of the life of the scientist and spy, Lev. Based loosely on the life of the inventor of the theremin, it’s a crash course in both Soviet politics, music, and the invention of the metal detector. 

I do wish the love story had been shortened up a bit. There’s probably close to an extra 50 pages in this book because Michaels REALLY wants you to know how much Lev loves Clara. I get it. He really, really loves Clara and when he can’t have her, Lev becomes a broken man who will do things for his country. It left me a bit more tired than I needed to be by the end of the book, a bit more eager to see the last page and declare the book complete. But otherwise, this was a fantastic read. 

The flashback approach works a bit better here than in Thien’s book, but I’m aching for a story that starts in one place and ends in another. And, frankly, after so many tyrants and murders, something with a little less death.