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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

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.

 

 


 

Professional Reviews

"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, RIA Novosti

Reader Reviews

The book, which is a series of short stories about Russian Orthodox priests, is a friendly parody of a traditional Orthodox genre of patericon - didactic stories from the lives of holy elders. Written both with great warmth and ironic detachment, the book presents a rare and perfect balance between hilarity and seriousness, objectiveness and tolerance. It is a glance at the contemporary Russian Orthodoxy cast by a loving, yet totally unbiased insider. At once witty and poignant, the short stories in the book are a cross between wisdom tales and jokes, "anekdoty." A definite must-read for anyone interested in contemporary Russia, Russian literature, or Russian Orthodox Christianity. {Anna / Amazon}
This little book is a "gem." For those who grew up in the Russian Orthodox faith, it is an affirmation. For those looking in, it hopefully gives an insight into how we think. {Sistren Berhane / Amazon}
 
I really enjoyed this book. It consists of short quirky anecdotes about mostly new Orthodox believers in Russia in the decades after the fall of the Soviet Union. The writer is obviously an Orthodox believer with a good spiritual grounding. The characters bring to mind many of our American converts. The title humor is a bit misleading. Some of them do make one laugh, but mostly smile, occasionally cry. The characters - lay people, clergy, monks and nuns - are parodied and (I hope) a little exaggerated, but with a light touch. One feels that the author loves them all. {Fr. Paul Yerger, Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, Clinton, Miss. / Amazon}
I once said in a High School Literary journal something along the lines of "read this for those pieces that touch your soul" - I honestly can't give any better advice for this book. {Mimi / Goodreads}

About the Author

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.

About the Translator

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.