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Durango native co-writes sweeping novel ‘The Reluctant Conductor’

Moisey Gorbaty, left, and Tim Turner are ready to sign copies of “The Reluctant Conductor” at their book-launch party at Turner’s house on Dec. 9. (Courtesy of Mike Iwerks)
Tim Turner, Moisey Gorbaty tell tale of family, survival – and music

What began as a chance meeting at the gym turned into a novel about a man’s tale of survival: “The Reluctant Conductor” was released this past November.

Tim Turner, a fifth-generation Durangoan who now lives in Los Angeles and Laguna Beach, California, was using his time at the gym to study a new language while working out. A journalist and playwright, Turner said he was in the market for a new project, which was where the self-taught language lessons were coming in.

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“The Reluctant Conductor” by Tim Turner and Moisey Gorbaty is available at Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main Ave.

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“I’ve always been this language person. I’m fluent in Spanish and I’ve worked on French and German and Czech,” he said, adding that at the time, there were a lot of Russian-speaking people in LA, “I heard it at the gym all the time. And I said, you know, I’m gonna learn to speak Russian and I got my Berlitz tapes and (listened to them on the) treadmill at the gym.”

One day at the gym, Turner said he sat next to Moisey Gorbaty, a musician who was born in Kishinev, Moldova, and who has been in the U.S. since 1989. The two got to chatting, and eventually, Gorbaty started giving Turner Russian lessons – and a friendship formed. As time went by, the two got to know each other better.

“He talked more and more about in growing up in Moldova, and I’m like, you know, I think there might be a book here,” Turner said.

And out of that came “The Reluctant Conductor.”

A map of Elazar Gershovich and his family’s epic journey during and after World War II is included in the novel, “The Reluctant Conductor.” (Courtesy of Tim Turner)

The novel follows the life of Elazar Gershovich, who as the story begins in 1922, is a 22-year-old violinist living with his family in Kalarash, a town in Moldova, on the eve of the outbreak of World War II. Like any young man, Elazar wants to find love and personal fulfillment, a tall order living in a small Jewish shtetl, where there are few prospects in the lady department, and instead of getting to be a full-time musician, he works at his family’s hardware and tack shop.

As the story progresses, Elazar does find love – and music – amid the horrors of war and racism under the umbrella of the Soviet Union. And while his family is forced to flee everything they’ve known and life becomes unpredictably cruel and tragic, ultimately, they are survivors.

While developing the book, Turner and Gorbaty and his wife traveled to Eastern Europe to get a feel for the region and to see where Gorbaty grew up.

“We only spoke Russian,” Turner said. “We had to register with the State Department in case we disappeared they know where to start looking. I got to see where he grew up, where his grandmother was buried.”

Gorbaty said he left his life in Eastern Europe when he realized there was no future for him there. A natural musician, he began music lessons at age 3.

“I started to read music before I started to read letters,” he said. “By the age of 5, I was playing 75 songs already by memory.”

He eventually got into the Moldovan Conservancy of Music, graduating in 1973. While at the conservancy, he was told by an instructor that he has perfect pitch and that perhaps he’d become a piano tuner, which turned out to be an accurate prediction because that’s what he ended up doing when he moved to the U.S.

It was a move he said he doesn’t regret.


“Because I made my decision, my kids are completely in a different place. And I am completely in a different place,” Gorbaty said. “I am the same person, I didn’t do more than I would do in Russia but the result is tremendously different.”

As for the timing of the release of “The Reluctant Conductor,” given the current war between Ukraine and Russia, Turner said it’s an odd coincidence.

“It’s uncanny. I mean, there’s no way we could have known in 2010 that this was going to be like exactly what’s happening again, right now,”he said. “I mean, Stalin was trying to take over Ukraine exactly 100 years ago. And there was just so much hate for Jewish people happening during World War II. There’s no way we could have known that would be the timeline.”

“This book today is very fresh, like it’s happened today,” Gorbaty said.


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