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Lenin's Embalmers

by I. B. Zbarskii, Barbara Bray, Ilya Zbarsky, etc.

Buy the book: I. B. Zbarskii. Lenin's Embalmers

Release Date: April, 1999

Edition: Hardcover


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Buy the book: I. B. Zbarskii. Lenin's Embalmers

A strange mix of politics and embalming...

Written by the son of one of Lenin's main embalmer's, this short book follows his family's personal history against the backdrop of Soviet politics. The book is at its most effective in relating the Zbarsky's personal history in the face of Stalinism. Behind all of this is the story of Lenin's corpse. Indeed, the author's father was head of the labratory maintaining Lenin. A fair bit of technical detail is given about the preservation and tomb.
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.


An odd, but interesting, book

I had never heard about this book until I saw it sitting on a shelf at a small bookstore. The title intrigued me, so I purchased it. While a lot of the work, at least initially, discusses the embalming of Lenin's corpse, there was a considerable amount of material about life during the purges of Stalin. The author was a witness to many events, albeit from a priviledged position in the Soviet hierarchy, and his recounting of the "show trials" and the terror of the "knock in the middle of the night" is revealed explicitly. There is also some recounting of other Communist leaders being embalmed by Russian experts, the section concerning the work on Ho Chi Minh during the height of the American bombing of North Vietnam being particularly interesting. Read this book to learn many different and interesting things about life under Stalin, and also the early days of the USSR.

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