Us Conductors: Section 2: Chapter 5-9

978-0-345-81332-9The Word On The Street’s Book Club discussion of Us Conductors got started last week. Check out the conversation!

This week, book club leader Sara has a few questions based on Chapters 5 – 9. Feel free to use these as a jumping-off point for any other thoughts or questions you may have too.


  1. How do you feel about Leon’s treatment of the women in the novel? Do you find Clara as compelling as Leon does?
  2. Leon lives a double life, as both inventor and spy. How does this back and forth between worlds affect the pace and tone of the story?
  3. What was your reaction to Leon’s encounter with Danny Finch on page 148? Does this scene change your opinion of Leon? 



2 thoughts on “Us Conductors: Section 2: Chapter 5-9

  1. Since the novel is an extended letter to Clara, Leon likes to present himself in the best possible light which meant that when Leon does something violent or dishonest, I was usually surprised because most of the time he presents himself as kind of a lovable eccentric scientist, focused on his inventions, music, and Clara, with the unsavoury stuff kind of following him around like an unwanted shadow. So when he reveals that he kills Danny Finch, or that he has more or less abandoned Katia/other women (as Violet mentioned last week), the reader has to confront the fact that Leon is probably less oblivious or less a reluctant participant that he makes himself out to be. I kept waiting for Michaels to address that, but I don’t think he really does.

    As happy as I was that the novel isn’t sappy when it comes to romance, to me Leon didn’t really view women as independent people whose choices or emotions mattered. He cheats on Katia, he doesn’t leave Clara alone once she’s rejected him (the novel is basically one long obsessive letter to her), he later abandons Lavinia with hardly a look back. His obsession with Clara actually made me like him a lot less.

  2. Leon’s double as spy and an inventor is the most compelling plot component for me. His obsession with Clara, as Kelsea intimates, is fairly repugnant owing to the fact that he seems unconcerned with getting to know her as a real and complex human being with her own world view and desires. He describes copious outings with her but through all that togetherness he apparently never engages her in enough meaningful conversation to learn that she was dating, then falling in love with, then engaged to another person? But this seems part and parcel with the glaring character defect or flaw that Micheals paints into Leon throughout: he is a man who willfully chooses to remain ignorant about huge aspects of the reality around him. He initially marries Katia without taking the time to find out how her personality differs from his projected fantasy; he trusts and blindly obeys the deeply corrupt Pash as a business partner; he falls out of contact with everyone he knows in Russia so that he can continue to believe that his spying is for a country ruled by Leninist idealism rather than Stalinist terror. In every case where he demonstrates this trait, by the novel’s end he has been sorely burned by it. His inability to have a forthright relationship, with an available (vs unrequited), non-fantasy woman is merely an extension of his dreamy, surface relationship to reality as a whole.
    As an aside, I particularly enjoyed finding out how the metal detectors Leon made for Alcatraz turned out to be a scam by Pash to help gangsters – ha ha!

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