What Belongs to You
On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher walks down a staircase beneath Sofia's National Palace of Culture, looking for sex. Among the stalls of a public bathroom he encounters Mitko, a charismatic young hustler. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, and their trysts grow increasingly intimate and unnerving as the enigma of this young man becomes inseparable from that of his homeland, Bulgaria, a country with a difficult past and an uncertain future. Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You is a stunning debut about an American expat struggling with his own complicated inheritance while navigating a foreign culture. Lyrical and intense, it tells the story of a man caught between longing and resentment, unable to separate desire from danger, and faced with the impossibility of understanding those he most longs to know.
A breathtaking examination of romantic obsession and the power struggles of a relationship, this beautifully written and achingly emotional novel marks the debut of one of America's most exciting young writers.
Shortlisted for British Book Industry Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year 2017. Long-listed for Green Carnation Prize 2017.
What Belongs to You stands naturally alongside the great works of compromised sexual obsession such as Thomas Mann's Death in Venice ... we are dealing with a writer who deserves his plaudits ... I found myself unable to stop reading ... Headily accomplished ... an essential work of our time Daily Telegraph ***** Worthy of its comparisons to James Baldwin and Alan Hollinghurst as well as Virginia Woolf and W G Sebald ... spellbinding ... a novel of rejection and disgust, displacement and transcendence ... I found myself trembling as I read it Evening Standard A refreshingly slim, subdued and contemplative piece of work ... Greenwell writes in long, consummately nuanced sentences, strung with insights and soaked in melancholy ... What Belongs to You is an uncommonly sensitive, intelligent and poignant novel Sunday Times I had thought of Hollinghurst as I read What Belongs to You, Greenwell's astonishingly assured debut novel, but questioned whether the parallel came to mind because both writers create vivid, enclosed worlds filled with ambiguous and shifting relationships between gay men. In fact, though, the greater similarity lies in their ability to blend a lyrical prose - the prose of longing, missed connections, grasped pleasures - with an almost uncanny depth of observation ... [The] middle section [is] a masterful study in alienation and escape ... Like the writers he admires, WG Sebald, Thomas Bernhard and Javier Marias, he is drawn to the idea of a body of work that seems as though it is all one book, or, as with Sebald in particular, a territory in which the reader wanders. It is perhaps too soon to say precisely what Greenwell's own fictional territory will look like - but even this early on, the landscape looks too riveting to miss -- Alex Clark Guardian A rich, important debut, an instant classic to be savored by all lovers of serious fiction because of, not despite, its subject: a gay man's endeavor to fathom his own heart -- Aaron Hamburger New York Times Book Review Brilliantly self-aware ... Greenwell's novel impresses for many reasons, not least of which is how perfectly it fulfills its intentions. But it gains a different power from its uneasy atmosphere of psychic instability, of confession and penitence, of difficult forces acknowledged but barely mastered and beyond the conscious control of even this gifted novelist -- James Wood New Yorker With What Belongs to You American literature is richer by one masterpiece. The character Mitko is unforgettable, as all myths are. He reigns at the heart of this book, surrounded by the magic flames of desire -- Edmund White, author of A Boy's Own Story A powerful novel from a writer who seems destined to produce fine work in the years ahead, describing both the condition of loneliness and the insistent cravings of the flesh with precision and sensitivity. [Greenwell] never seeks to manipulate our emotions, but creates a narrative voice so enigmatic that one feels both affection and disdain for him simultaneously. Too often in fiction it becomes clear how an author wants the reader to feel, but Greenwell's character is too complex a creation for any easy judgments. And that is what will make both him and this novel particularly memorable -- John Boyne Irish Times In his spare, haunting novel, Garth Greenwell takes a well-known narrative and finds new meaning in it. What Belongs to You is a searching and compassionate meditation on the slipperiness of desire, the impossibility of salvation, and the forces of shame, guilt, and yearning that often accompany love, rendered in language as beautiful and vivid as poetry -- Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life There's a particular joy in reading Garth Greenwell, in having that feeling, precious and rare: here is the real thing -- Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs In Garth Greenwell's incandescent first novel, What Belongs to You, an old tale is made new, and made punishing... Mr. Greenwell writes long sentences, pinned at the joints by semicolons, that push forward like confidently searching vines. There's suppleness and mastery in his voice. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell ... A writer who opens chasms rather than builds substandard bridges ... A subtle observer of human interactions. He underscores the way expressions of love are nearly always, in part, performance -- Dwight Garner New York Times Exquisite ... Stylistically, Greenwell owes more to Sebald than to Nabokov ... One of the great pleasures of his prose is how profoundly thoughtful it is, even when considering physical needs and passions. This is emotion recollected in tranquillity, or rather in melancholy. There is an almost visceral disjuncture between places and actions that are grubby, even squalid, and the delicacy of the lens through which they're seen. Yet the effect, paradoxically, is one of almost pure emotion -- Damon Galgut The Nation One of the few novels I've read which feels like it offers an authentic account of what growing up is like for gay people in western societies ... Greenwell's novel is at its most affecting when subtly pushing readers to examine their own attitudes and motives ... By illuminating the dividing lines in our unequal world, Greenwell's novel challenges us to think about privilege, especially our own ... What Belongs To You presents a challenging and refreshing vision of gay life. It's an original addition to the line of fiction which, from Henry James to Ben Lerner, chronicles the lives of Americans in Europe. Greenwell painstakingly captures desire in all its complex, double-edged intensity ... Erotic holding, emotional withholding and the question of who holds power in a relationship are all examined in a work which gripped me all the way to its sad and beautiful ending Independent on Sunday Garth Greenwell's first novel is gilded with the kind of praise that debut writers might never dare to imagine for themselves ... none of it is hyperbole. The praise is earned ... first, Greenwell's abundant gifts: the language, Hanya Yanagihara says on the book sticker, is "as beautiful and vivid as poetry". To speak in such an approximation, though, might sell it short. Little here is metaphoric though no word is spare. Every utterance seems imbued with thought that is deep and beautiful in its clarity -- Arifa Akbar Independent He imbues his prose with a bewitching combination of ethereal somnolence, luminosity and brutal rumination. His sentences are carefully balanced ... This command of form can also be felt in the larger structures of the novel: in the rhythm and tone of its paragraphs, and in the cumulative music of the book as a whole Times Literary Supplement [A novel] about the lasting damage that a loveless childhood can inflict ... The last sequence includes some marvellous vignettes of loving kindness between parents and children, but they are presented as something that only other people can ever have, and the final pages of the book are memorable for their bleak and desperate sadness -- Neil Bartlett Guardian Heartfelt ... [A] touching, desperately sad story. And the character of Mitko, so vivid yet elusive, explains why What Belongs to You is such a promising debut The Times Contains both psychological depth and moments of breathtaking drama Observer This astonishing debut novel's portrait of compromised lust holds its own against classics like Lolita Sunday Telegraph A slender and achingly beautifully novel full of the gloriously messy pain of unrequited and inappropriate love -- Cathy Rentzenbrink Stylist A truly stunning debut ... a masterpiece ... A literary star is born -- Janice Forsyth BBC Radio Scotland The American book changing gay literature Attitude A slim novel, yes, but a slim masterpiece Monocle24 I was blown away by [What Belongs to You] -- Farhana Gani the Reader's Digest podcast Exquisite ... Risk and desire are the 'coterminous' elements of the book's style as well as its action, terms of engagement Greenwell makes plain from its first page ... Breathtaking ... It's hard to tell at times whether the narrator is the innocent abroad or an American abroad among innocents. Greenwell's insight is that the destruction of innocence is a process that never halts -- Christian Lorentzen New York Magazine Outstanding in just about every way a novel could be Los Angeles Times The strength of this slim book is the vibrant, heartbreaking character Mr Greenwell creates in Mitko: object of the unnamed narrator's desire, fear, obsession and, ultimately, pity... Mr Greenwell offers a tender portrait of the longing for connection and acceptance that inhabits us all The Economist Although this is a debut novel, expectations have been running high. What Belongs to You grew from a lauded novella called Mitko. And Greenwell's literary criticism in the New Yorker and the Atlantic demonstrates an unusually keen and insightful mind. That promise is fully realized here in the dark magic of these pages ... This is a novel of aggressive introspection, but Greenwell writes with such candor and psychological precision that the effect is oddly propulsive ... In the end, a novel like this can't offer any resolution except its perfect articulation of despair that anyone with a heart will hear -- Ron Charles The Washington Post Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You is the Great Gay Novel for our times ... an astonishing debut New Republic Garth Greenwell starts 2016 on a high note with What Belongs to You, a novel that can be called truly great. The narrative follows an American teacher in Bulgaria and his relationship with a young hustler named Mitko, whom he pays for sex. But the interaction doesn't end there as you might expect, and neither does the exploration of desire, which Greenwell orchestrates brilliantly. Plumbing the depths of sexuality and psychology, What Belongs to You is lingering and haunting ELLE.com What Belongs To You comes to feel, in the end, like a great enactment of an infatuation, exciting and appalling by turns-a brilliantly observed account of an attempt to make another person entirely yours, to subsume them within your story Guernica At just about two hundred pages, What Belongs to You feels at once expansive and instantaneous, and its lyrical use of time is one of its most striking and immersive elements. In any given section, every moment of the book is present... the novel recalls works like Rachel Cusk's Outline, Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, and Teju Cole's Open City; and, of course, it descends stylistically from Sebald ... What Belongs to You is a haunting, gorgeous, and fierce debut, capturing desire in every sentence - holding the space of what we long for and what can never truly be ours The Rumpus Garth Greenwell's debut novel What Belongs to You aches with desire and tenderness: an American professor in Bulgaria encounters a male prostitute named Mitko in a public bathroom, beginning a complex sexual relationship between the two that will have enormous ramifications for them both. Lyrical and haunting, What Belongs to You is a rumination on lust, shame, violence, and the ways in which sexual and emotional pain stays with and shapes us Buzzfeed Thomas Mann, Henry James and Marcel Proust are Greenwell's strongest forebears, with James Baldwin and Alan Hollinghurst as equally discernible inspirations...Garth Greenwell's writing is alive to the foreign and the unknown; he opens our eyes to worlds we had not realized existed alongside our own. Even the landscape of Bulgaria, one of the poorest and least-known countries in Europe, is made vivid and vibrant...What Belongs to You make visible all the painful and beautiful facets of human life and human love New Republic Reaches, with elegance, with poetry, into what it means to be a human...I rarely feel such a connection with a book: I am sure many others will too, after reading this Bookseller [What Belongs to You is] the first great novel of 2016 ... The book is brilliantly structured ... [and] Greenwell's ability to parse the complex emotional push-and-pull between the two men is incredible, and rivals books like Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life or Ferrante's Neapolitan novels. His images are spot-on ... And in Mitko, Greenwell has created one of the best characters in recent years. What Belongs to You is a great tragedy, and Greenwell is a great writer. I'll be reading whatever he writes next." -- Gabe Habash Publishers Weekly (Staff Pick) This is a project of rare discernment and beauty, and it is not to be missed. A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past Kirkus There's a gorgeousness to Greenwell's prose ... This is a heart-breaking, important piece of work, which emphasises to us all how much our lives are made (and unmade) by how our bodies collide (or don't) with the bodies of others -- Andrew Macmillan Next Review Slim, eloquent and emotionally wrenching, this debut novel is a superb evocation of that curious state known as love ... Greenwell's shimmering novel recounts an age-old story with such toughness and tenderness as to make it seem new: and that is an art in itself RTE Guide What Belongs To You is a very accomplished novel from an exceptionally skilled writer. It brilliantly deconstructs the expat experience, modern sexual mores, and cross-continental cultural divides, echoing one of Greenwell's go-to novels growing up, James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room. Undoubtedly one of the novels of the year, Greenwell is a writer to watch -- Stephen Boylan GCN Utterly absorbing ... powerful ... For its mastery of tone and its expert drawing together of a number of disparate elements, Greenwell's narrative feat is utterly remarkable and the final ten pages amount to one of the most moving passages this reviewer has ever read in contemporary fiction RTE Great portrayal of obsession ... it is in his prose that Greenwell displays his mastery New Statesman Masterly debut ... a melancholy but unwavering account of desire and its aetiologies ... Mitko is one of the the most unforgettable characters in contemporary gay literature ... Greenwell's rare invocation of desire's inexorable spell propels you right to the end Australian Book Review First-rate debut ... Greenwell's entranced sentences, Sebald-like in their gravity and evocativeness, take us back to the old days Sydney Morning Herald What Belongs to You is a rich and sensually detailed exploration of love and obsession. A haunting, beautiful novel -- Rabih Alameddine, author of An Unnecessary Woman What Belongs to You is a beautiful, moving, sensual novel. It announces Garth Greenwell as one of America's most exciting young writers -- Jonathan Lee, author of High Dive In prose that is at once refined and lavish - the quiet dignity and control of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day coupled with the agonized passion and sexual tension of Andre Aciman's Call Me by Your Name - Garth Greenwell takes us deep inside a specific Bulgarian subculture to examine the universal: the disparity between the uninhibited lives we desire and the bearable lives we choose. I began reading What Belongs to You in admiration; I ended in tears. An exquisite debut -- Jamie Quatro, author of I Want to Show You More Garth Greenwell is a unique, and uniquely welcome, voice in American letters. The consciousness on display in his debut novel is so rich and restless that it seems practically inexhaustible: a consciousness that rises to heights of both passion and intellect - of passion harnessed by intellect. What Belongs to You very much seems to me not only a great novel but the first installment in a great body of work -- Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Illumination I am in awe of this book. So intimate, so honest, so exquisitely crafted, it broke my heart and left me in tears. It showed me a Bulgaria both familiar and entirely novel, rendered with candor and deep affection, and characters, whose plight and desires at first seemed foreign yet, before long, so dear. Garth Greenwell has written a marvelous book, an important book - one whose impact is as much artistic as it is cultural. What Belongs to You expands not simply the world of letters, but also our collective knowledge of what it means to be human -- Miroslav Penkov, author of East of the West Beautifully rendered, quietly obsessive. A Sebaldian account of a gay American in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the bruising experience of his sexuality being revealed to his father when he was younger -- Adam Haslett, author of Imagine Me Gone I was blown away by it ... beautiful -- Helen Lewis Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4 Absolutely astonishing ... a tour de force ... remarkable -- Christopher Frayling Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4 Beautifully written ... a galvanising read as Greenwell constantly dissects his own feelings, thoughts and motives, sieving through desire and need with intelligence, insight and candour ... Greenwell pulls off a mesmeric read ... a finely wrought and compelling artifact of both beauty and truth. New Zealand Listener I devoured it, in a single sitting ... I was completely spellbound by it ... What Belongs To You is concentrated brilliance, a short novel that packs an emotive and thought provoking punch. I urge you all to read it Savidge Reads The literary sensation ... a brilliant tale of gay desire and class division that is exquisitely phrased i What Belongs To You is an exquisite triptych Vulture An astonishing portrait of compromised lust, set in ex-Soviet Sofia, this debut novel holds its own against classics such as Lolita Telegraph The main character, Mitko, is truly memorable and pulsates on the page, and the novel is imaginative in the way it examines relationships that cross class and nationality Robbie Millen, The Sunday Times An exquisitely written investigation of desire and shame -- Justine Jordan Guardian
Garth Greenwell is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, where he was an Arts Fellow. His novella Mitko won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and a Lambda Literary Award.