Hutchinson, Samuel 1965-
HUTCHINSON, Samuel 1965-
PERSONAL: Born 1965.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, The Harvill Press, Ltd., 2 Aztec Row, Berners Rd., London N1 0PW, England.
CAREER: Moscoop (photographic press agency), Moscow, Russia, director.
(Coauthor with Ilya Zbarsky) A l'ombre du mausolée, [France], translated by Barbara Bray as Lenin's Embalmers, Harvill Press (London, England), 1998.
Lenin's Embalmers has also been translated into German.
SIDELIGHTS: Samuel Hutchinson is a Moscow-based French journalist whose coauthored Lenin's Embalmers with Ilya Zbarsky. When Josef Stalin rose to power in 1923, maintaining the corpse of the founding father of the new regime, Vladimir Ilich Lenin, became one of the Soviet Union's most important functions. Only months before the death of Lenin in 1924, Stalin is reported to have said in a secret meeting that it would be unthinkable to have the leader's body cremated. Rather, Stalin wanted to memorialize Lenin as a symbol for the people. Some officials suggested freezing the corpse, but this idea took so long to plan and prepare that Lenin's remains had decayed too much for this method to be an option. Vladimir Vorobiov and Boris Zbarsky, the father of Ilya Zbarsky, proposed a chemical treatment to the Committee for Immortalization, and this was the plan that was implemented. In Lenin's Embalmers, Zbarsky tells the story of this process—along with the story of his mother's affair with author Boris Pasternak—from his own experiences as a participant in the nomenklatura, a small, elite group within the Communist Party that held desirable government positions, beginning in 1934. Part of the story involves the political machinations within the ruling Soviet class, including the show trials of the 1930s and the anti-Semitic purges of the early 1950s that resulted in Boris Zbarsky's imprisonment and the termination of Ilya Zbarsky's employment. As Nathan Ward wrote in Library Journal, "The embalmers who maintained the late Lenin could pretty much regard [Lenin's] pallor as a barometer for their own security."
Hutchinson and Zbarsky describe in great detail the embalming process and the journey Lenin's body made to Siberia during World War II. The scientific innovation of this embalming procedure, according to James Meek in the London Review of Books, was actually an intellectual step backwards: "By mummifying a single corpse and turning it into a fetish, the Soviet leadership took a wild leap towards the metaphysical from which they were never to return. In doing so, they weren't merely signaling their readiness to break with the West politically, economically and societally; this was a warning that they intended to break with the Enlightenment tradition of rational thought and inquiry." Indeed, as William Edwin Fann wrote in the American Journal of Psychiatry, "Lenin directed much of his fury against organized religion's use of church ceremonies and effigies and cautioned against his own personal idolization."
While a reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the description of the embalming process interesting, the critic was ultimately disappointed: "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." However, BookPage.com reviewer Michael Sims asserted that "the information about embalming and mummification" is "worth the price of admission." And Derek Bickerton, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called Lenin's Embalmers "an entertaining" book and a "sprightly read."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journal of Psychiatry, December, 1999, William Edwin Fann, review of Lenin's Embalmers, pp. 2006-2007.
Library Journal, April 15, 1999, Nathan Ward, review of Lenin's Embalmers, p. 122.
London Review of Books, March 18, 1999, James Meek, review of Lenin's Embalmers, pp. 30-31.
New Statesman, November 13, 1998, Natasha Fair-weather, review of Lenin's Embalmers, p. 48.
New York Times Book Review, August 29, 1999, Derek Bickerton, "Dig They Must," p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, March 29, 1999, review of Lenin's Embalmers, p. 80.
BookPage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (November 14, 2004), Michael Sims, "Lenin Grads."
Complete-Review.com, http://www.complete-review.com/ (November 14, 2004), review of Lenin's Embalmers.*