Given its low profile, I probably wouldn’t have read it if Joseph Brodsky hadn’t called it one of the most innovative novels in Russian literature… And he was right, and I’m here to tell you it should be much better known…
In his memoirs (see Volume 2, part 2 of his Collected Works), written in the late 1950s but published long after his death, Mariengof recounts a WWI anecdote as told by General Ridgway, the Chief of Staff of the US Army in 1953-55.
Mariengof’s source was likely Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway, which was translated into Russian and published in the USSR in 1958. (See the relevant snippet from Google Books or search archive.org for the whole book.) Here’s Ridgway’s version of the anecdote:
At a staff meeting before a big attack some fire- eating division commander tapped at a little dot on the map with his riding crop and said: “I’d give ten thousand men to take that hill.” There was a moment of silence, and then from the back of the room, where stood the battalion commanders whose men would have to go against the hill, there came an ironic voice: “Generous son-of-a-bitch, isn’t he?”
To which Mariengof added:
Stalin was also a generous son-of-a-bitch. As I suspect, the most generous son-of-a-bitch of all those that history remembers.
This should be printed on billboards, shown on outdoor LED screens and shouted from rooftops in every Russian city on the eve of WWII victory celebrations, due May 9th.