Garth Greenwell writes a poignant story touching on gay life, sex work, relationships, and longing, as well as a heartfelt love letter to Bulgaria. The unnamed narrator of What Belongs to You is an American teacher who meets Mitko, a sex worker. The transaction seems tidy enough in the beginning, but as the relationship progresses, it becomes muddy with desire, passion, and eventually obsession. It becomes murkier still with jealousy, drugs, lies, pleas for money, physical violence, and fear.
Greenwell somehow manages to imbue every sentence with a steamy undercurrent of tension, but also with an undertone of melancholy so sad, it's beautiful. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Dark and luminous, written in language precise and poetic, both elegant of line and heartbreaking, this is certainly one of the best books of the year. Already lauded by all the major critics, What Belongs to You is sure to be considered one of the "important gay novels," while proof that great art transcends any sort of limiting label. Recommended By Stephen O., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.
What Belongs to You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created an indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.
"A triumph . . . the novel takes its place on a rare shelf of fiction that includes James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room and Andre Aciman's Call Me by Your Name . . . Greenwell's gorgeous, roaming prose untangles questions of transaction, identity, cruelty, and just how much of knowing a stranger is willful invention." Christopher Bollen, Interview
"The first great novel of 2016 . . . Greenwell’s ability to parse the complex emotional push-and-pull . . . is incredible, and rivals books like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life or Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels . . . The ending will probably destroy you (if I remember correctly, my reaction was something like a pained “Oh.”). 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
About the Author
Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, he holds graduate degrees from Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was an Arts Fellow. His short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review and A Public Space. What Belongs to You is his first novel.