Christopher Buckley: What’s Lenin's Body to Do?

Roundup: Talking About History

Christopher Buckley is the author, most recently, of the novel “They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?”

SINCE the Soviet Union folded in 1991, Russia has been tippy-toeing around the dead mouse on the national living room floor, namely Lenin’s embalmed corpse....

I’ve just read a 1998 book called “Lenin’s Embalmers,” by Ilya Zbarsky and Samuel Hutchinson. It’s fascinating, in a horrible sort of way. Over the last 88 years, Lenin’s corpse has had more adventures than many live people. In the words of the Grateful Dead, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” The author, who died in 2007, was the son of Boris Zbarsky, one of Lenin’s original embalmers. Boris was keeper of the body for nearly 30 years, earning a pretty good living (by Soviet standards) and, better still, immunity from Stalin’s terror.

Dictator Remains Management was not at the time a huge field; more of a boutique industry. There weren’t all that many scientists back then who knew how to keep a body fresh and pinkish. Stalin couldn’t afford to toss Boris into the Gulag along with tens of millions of other Russians. Boris wasn’t arrested and thrown into prison — for no particular reason — until 1952, one year before Stalin died. He almost made it to the finish line....

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