From the glamour of Jazz Age New York to the gulags and science prisons of the Soviet Union
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. But when his spy games fall apart and he is forced to return home, he finds the Motherland not quite as he left it.
Exiled to a Siberian Gulag, with nothing but his wits to keep him alive, Termen is drawn ever deeper into the labyrinth of Stalin’s Russia, where only his feelings for Clara, passing through the ether like the theremin’s song, seem to show a way out.
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Montreal's Sean Michaels is a writer, critic and founder of the pioneering music blog 'Said the Gramophone'. Born in Stirling, Scotland, in 1982, he has toured with rock bands, scoured the Paris catacombs and contributed to publications including the Guardian, McSweeney's, Pitchfork and Plan B.