Zufar Gareyev was brought up in an orphanage in Bashkiriya (now Bashkortostan), a republic in the Urals that is part of the Russian Federation. Subsequently he served in the army and worked as an unskilled labourer in a variety of jobs. In his late twenties he moved to Moscow, where he continued to earn his living as a porter, loader, and odd-jobs man while getting acquainted with the literary ‘underground’ and with established writers such as Andrei Bitov and Bulat Okudzhava. Eventually he enrolled at the Moscow Literary Institute, from which he graduated in 1990. Married with three children, he now supplements his income with regular free-lance journalism.
Gareyev started writing young, but his attempts to publish his work remained unsuccessful until the late 1980s, when a few sketches appeared in newspapers such as Komsomol′skaya pravda. By that time his manuscripts had already ‘circulated widely in narrow circles’, and critics alert to new trends began to mention Gareyev as one of the most interesting writers of ‘alternative’ prose. His real breakthrough, however, came in 1989 with the publication in Novy mir of his story, ‘When Other Birds Cry’, followed by ‘Holidays’ in 1990. Subsequently his stories and novellas have appeared to critical acclaim in a number of journals, including Volga, Kontinent, Solo, and Znamya, and his work has twice been nominated for the Russian Booker Prize. A collection of his novellas, Multiproza, was published in Moscow in 1992.
Gareyev’s prose follows two quite distinct trends. Works such as Multiproza (1991), Stereoscopic Slavs (1991), and ‘Second-Hand Autumn’ (1994), together with his (mostly unpublished) one-act plays, belong to what Gareyev himself calls ‘game prose’: stylistically ebullient, burlesque works that mix the real and fantastic, the lofty and grotesque to present a comic-horrific portrait of Russian life. Such works can be seen as an offshoot of a Gogolian tradition which extends through the absurdists of the 1920s to writers of the ‘underground’ such as Yevgeny Popov. Several of Gareyev’s works, however, are written in a more straightforwardly realistic