So, the Giller Prize is upon us. In just a few short days, an author’s life will be changed forever. No, this is not an exaggeration, this IS a life changing prize, especially now that it is worth $100,000 (basically the equivalent of 10 years of working for most Canadian authors, if not more).
But I don’t want this post to be depressing, I want this post to be exciting!!!! On Nov. 10, I’ll be a part of the Giller Light Calgary party, defending the novel Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. I wanted to give you a sneak peek of what I would be discussing at the event, so below is a brief summary of what I thought of the book.
Firstly, it’s important that you understand what a theremin is when reading the book. To demonstrate, I have included a video of the instrument below. This is of course a miniature version of it, because a cat is playing it.
Thank you to “Mr. HarlemTwerk: for posting that video! Granted, theremin’s don’t really look like that; they’re much bigger with no antennae, but you got the point.
Us Conductors is about the Russian inventor Lev Terman who invented the theremin back in the 1920s. He also invented a few others things, most notably some technology that allowed the Soviets to spy on Americans in the 30s, but this book mainly focuses on his love of music, and the effect the theremin had on his early life.
Following an exciting first half of the book that details Terman’s wealth and celebrity-filled time in American, comes a very dark second half of the narrative. Terman is forced back to Russia and shuffled between gulags and various other prisons, basically working as a slave for his country. Similar to concentration camps from WWII, Terman barely survives the inhumane conditions. All in all, from the little I’ve read about Terman’s life, this story is fairly true to history.
I realize this description of the book has remained fairly unbiased up until now, but I will be making the argument on Monday that Michaels should win the Giller. Why? Sean Michaels is a great writer. At the very least, this is a requirement to win the richest literary prize in Canada. But he also has phenomenal storytelling skills. The book begins in one genre, and ends as an entirely different one. This abrupt change kept me reading, but Michaels was smart enough to maintain his tone and character development throughout. Because the narrative voice remained consistent throughout the book, the drastic plot change was not jarring or unbelievable to me as a reader.
If the above observations have piqued your interest, come on our to the Giller Light Bash on Monday to celebrate literary merit in Canada. If you don’t live in and around Calgary, make sure to tune in to the Giller Prizes on television, Rick Mercer is hosting!