Lenin's Embalmers Paperback – Apr 2000
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"Comrades, Vladimir Ilich's health has grown so much worse lately that it is to be feared he will soon be no more. We must therefore consider what is to be done when the great sorrow befalls us.... Modern science is capable of preserving his body for a considerable time, long enough at least for us to grow used to the idea of his being no longer with us."On January 21, 1924, just three months after Joseph Stalin spoke those words, Vladimir Lenin died. Trotsky, already falling from favor, argued that turning Lenin's remains into a relic ran counter to Lenin's own beliefs. Eager to strengthen his new regime, however, Stalin saw that preserving the body was a good way to harness the religious sentiment of the nation's masses for his support. The Committee for Immortalization was duly founded, and--after much debate--scientists Vladimir Vorbiov, Boris Zbarsky, and their assistants were selected to embalm the great leader. Lenin had been dead for two months before they were able to begin working in a laboratory housed inside Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square. Despite constant refrigeration and tentative preservation attempts, the body had deteriorated--"the left hand was turning a greenish-grey colour; the ears had crumpled up completely." Vorbiov developed a successful solution of glycerin, alcohol, water, potassium acetate, and quinine chloride, which restored the body to a lifelike appearance and is still used for preventive maintenance today.
Boris's son Ilya Zbarsky recounts this strange history and his family's experiences in Lenin's Embalmers. Technical details regarding the embalming process are interspersed amongst stories about Lenin, moving the body during World War II, and even traveling abroad to embalm other Communist heads of state. Zbarsky also reveals the political infighting that dogged the scientists, and how, even in the shadow of Lenin's mausoleum, it was impossible to hide from Stalin's purges. Finally, Zbarsky brings the book to its ironic conclusion: when their funding was cut by 80 percent, the mausoleum's scientists began embalming the former Soviet Union's nouveaux riches to support Lenin's upkeep. Full of interesting detail--and remarkable photos--Lenin's Embalmers makes for an engaging read. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Mention of Lenin and corpses might indicate intrigue and topics of dark fascination. However, this vanilla account of Soviet life doesn't quite plumb the depths. Zbarsky was a member of the nomenklatura, and his privilege stemmed from a job in the world's most famous mausoleum. It was the author's father, Boris Zbarsky, who was in charge of the mausoleum; Ilya had a supporting role as a chemist, ensuring that Lenin did not spoil. While Zbarsky's account might resemble that of any Moscow pensioner, his employment did offer ringside seats for the Stalinist show trials in the 1930s. Although he skims over what could have been interesting personal detail (a competitive relationship between the young scientist and his playboy careerist father; the antipathy between the young man and his stepmother), Zbarsky shines when it comes to corpse preservation: he recounts the evacuation of Lenin's body to Siberia during WWII and includes a chapter focusing on the process used to preserve the leader of the World Proletariat. Zbarsky's personal relationship with the corpse ended in the 1950s, when he was dismissed from his post. The institute responsible for Lenin's upkeep later embalmed the leaders of several other Socialist countries (including Klement Gottwald, head of the Czech Communist Party, and Ho Chi Minh), and today the mausoleum laboratory provides mortuary services to all paying customers, including the Russian mafia. Offering little new information on the mysteries behind Lenin's tomb, the book will prove most interesting to those curious about Communist worship of their leaders' remains.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
This is a very personal memior. The author had a poisoned relationship with his father, and the book is laced with this acid. Good or Bad, Zbarsky blames his father for misdirecting his studies and his career. In between this, the history of political distortion of science during the 1930's from a personal point of view is fascinating and chilling. The book also tells the story of how his father rose to a privileged position in Soviet society, and some of the double think involved in this. The Zbarsky's thought they were untouchable, having survived the purges of the 1930's only to fall foul of Stalin just before his death. Evidently, with some irony Stalin's death probably saved the father, who was in the gulag by then.
The book concludes with some history of other embalming done by the lab, first for political reasons and then for financial reason after the collapse of the Sovient Union.
In some ways, I thought the poisoned relationship between father and son detracted from the history involved. Perhaps it was deserved, but at some point it color's the author's perspective on other events. Having said that, this book is a strange but interesting story of life in Soviet Russia.
The book is not ghoulish nor is it sensational; it is an incredible story about an exceptional event and profession. The book is primarily about the initial embalming, and the decades of maintenance upon Lenin's corpse that have followed. The book is made much more interesting, as the Author meshes the story of Lenin's remains with Soviet History as he and his Family experienced it. The Author also includes the History of the tomb itself, from the earliest designs, through the modifications it has gone through over the years. Architectural drawings as well as construction photographs are included.
The book maintains that all of Lenin was initially preserved, and contrary to persistent rumors, that the entire body has remained intact. Whether or not the book is convincing on these points, I leave to other readers. This really is a great offbeat read. It also is a serious explanation of the History, not a tabloid distortion.
However the rest of the book should not be overlooked. Here is a facinating insight of what it was to be an intellectual under the Lenin/Stalin regimes during the first half of the 20th century. This is truly an extraordinary story of someone who has had a front row seat to one of history's most brutal regimes and the (eerie) hero worship that regime spawned.
Most recent customer reviews
I wanted to read this book to prepare for a production of a play by Vern Thiessen. It was very helpful in providing more background info about the two embalmers and about the... Read morePublished on Dec 31 2013 by KJB
A sort of autobiography written by the son of one of Lenin's embalmers who himself became employed as one. Read morePublished on June 12 2000 by Robert J Dively
You've probably never thought to wonder how Lenin's body managed to look so good for more than half a century, but if you're interested, this book provides both the technical... Read morePublished on Oct. 31 1999