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Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

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A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Faith & Humor caused a sensation when it was published in Russia. As Kucherskaya writes in her introduction, “At one convent, the book was burned at the stake. Meanwhile, at a Seminary in another small town, it was added to the curriculum that helps future priests understand problems within the Church.”
Author Maya Kucherskaya artfully mixes fact and fiction, myth and history to offer a compelling, loving picture of a world of faith that is often impenetrable to outsiders. Yet Faith & Humor is not simply a book about the Orthodox Church, or about Russia rediscovering its faith after 70 years of state-sponsored atheism. Certainly there are elements of that here, and certainly Faith & Humor is an enlightening window into the “mysterious Russian soul.” But at its core, Kucherskaya’s book is a light, funny, insightful work of fiction about people who ardently believe something and who carry this belief out into the real world. 
"a pretty cool book on the Russian Orthodox Church and, yes, the ordinary people 'within it.' Most of whom happen to be priests… The book utilizes a series of anecdotes, stories and sketches to introduce the reader to some of the oddest collection of priests you are ever likely to find in print… For me, the stories, especially the shorter ones, resemble nothing so much as the surreal tales penned by Daniil Kharms..."
Marc Bennetts, RIAN
"I have to admit that I am terribly fond of this book. I was howling with laughter as I read it. I can see why it was burned at the stake at a convent; it is certainly scandalous. I can also see why one seminary uses it as instruction for their future priests. I think it’s charming, and I’d highly recommend it. I wouldn’t give it to new converts or people outside the faith; however, it’s a lovely gift for a friend or even—perhaps—a priest."
Brigid Strait, The Onion Dome 2.0


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Maya Kucherskaya is a literary critic, novelist, biographer and teacher. A graduate of Moscow State University, she received a PhD from UCLA and is the author of more than 100 articles on literature and culture. She has served several times as a judge on Russia’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker, and her first novel (recently rewritten and published as The Rain God) received the Student Booker prize. Faith & Humor won the 2006 Bunin Prize. 
Translator Alexei Bayer lives in New York, where he writes in English and in Russian, his native tongue, and translates into both languages. His translations have appeared in Chtenia and Words Without Borders, as well as in such collections as The Wall in My Head, a book dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Life Stories, a bilingual literary anthology to benefit hospice care in Russia. His writing has appeared in Chtenia, New England Review and KR Online.

This book's translation was effected under the auspices of the 
Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation TRANSCRIPT Programme to Support Translations of Russia Literature.


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  1. Faith and Humor 5 Star Review

    Posted by on 13th Apr 2015

    Russians have a quirky sense of humor; add Orthodoxy to the mix and it gets quirkier still. These vignettes are delightful to read and with sufficient contemplation and shifting of perspective, they could even be called humorous; for me, that's part of the humor.

  2. Faith & Humor 5 Star Review

    Posted by on 26th Dec 2013

    This has been on my book list for months. So glad I finally added this book to my collection. Very fascinating reading and even better having experienced Russian culture first hand--gives an added insight and background for the reading. Only regret waiting to long to finally order my copy.

Other Details

Maya Kucherskaya
Alexei Bayer

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