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What Belongs to You (2016)

by Garth Greenwell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7032732,671 (3.78)30
"A haunting novel of erotic obsession by a major new talent On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher walks down a stairwell 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, a country with a difficult past and an uncertain future. 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"--… (more)
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» See also 30 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Brutal and perfect. ( )
  RachelGMB | Dec 27, 2023 |
This book transcends a rather tired premise and a shaky beginning to become a very rewarding read. At the beginning I had a very definite sense that while the setting and the desire were very real, the business of paying for sex in a public toilet and the resulting emotional complications were somewhat confected. As a gay man I have certainly imagined what it would be like to pay for sex with a breathtakingly sexy hustler, but I have also imagined what it would be like to have a sublime singing voice or to buy an aircraft carrier and sail it around the world - that doesn't mean I should write a book about it.

However, as this initiating event fell further into the past, the book felt more real to me. There is plenty of emotional truth to be had in the narrator's reflections on his earlier life, and particularly in his struggles to find meaning in his adult life and his guilty suspicion that by living in Europe he might be running away from something. The theme of desire, which runs throughout the novel, is developed very well.

The writing is somewhat patchy, with mostly very evocative, powerful writing interspersed with rather clunky lines and a self-consciously literary style which I found distracting. The very long paragraph I found particularly distracting, because it wasn't actually one paragraph but just a bunch of consecutive paragraphs with the line breaks and indentation removed, so I didn't read it all in one sitting, but actually stopped at an obvious paragraph end (when he came back to the present momentarily from his reminiscence) and did something else before coming back to it.

Nevertheless, I found this a very enjoyable read and although it is less than 200 pages, it can be read quite slowly and really savoured. ( )
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
I usually love gay nEuROTIC but I keep falling asleep every time I pick this book up. I have shit to do I can't just be passing out all day.
  fleshed | Jul 16, 2023 |
Garth Greenwell’s elegant, vivid and evocative writing makes this a stand-out novel. The novel engages the reader in strong emotions, sometimes of passion and longing, and other times of despair, hopelessness, aversion and regret.

The novel is written in first person, and the name of its narrator is never revealed, an accomplishment seldom achieved in first-person narratives.
The story is set in Bulgaria,a pathetic yet sometimes beautiful country which has been dominated and ruled by foriegn nations throughout most of its existence. This setting itself serves as a sort of character in the novel. The various locales and surroundings of each of the novel’s episodes impact what occurs in the setting as well as the moods and behaviors of the characters. In fact, Bulgaria itself is a country that has not yet achieved its own sovereignty, its own national identity, just as the two primary characters in this book cannot fully achieve their fullness, their independence from one another.

The narrator of the book finds a young man, Mitko in a rest room frequented by men looking to hook up with other men. It is the reason the narrator was in the rest room and Mitko is the one to sell his services to the older man.

The business relationship between the two men quickly grows into something bigger, yet is doomed to never be the deep and meaningful relationship the narrator longs for, even though he himself does not recognize that longing.

It is a powerful book, an emotional journey into desire, obsession and yearning, where neither man can admit his own desire for commitment to and feelings for the other man.

To say that the book ends on a tragic way is not to spoil or reveal its ending because the book is a tragic story all along. The two meet in tragic desperation, one for money, the other for companionship. The affair and relationship is misbegotten from the outset and can never grows beyond each man’s inability to be other than who they are.

This is not a standard romance, nor a tragic love story. It is a deep psychological exploration of two very different characters and their impacts on each other’s lives.

Most books about male relationships with other men are, surprisingly, both written by and read by women. As such, the stories they portray can only be what the female authors imagine a homosexual relationship to be. When an author is both male and gay himself, he is able to portray a mood, feeling tone and level of authenticity not possible from authors lacking those qualifications.

Greenwell is qualified to tell a story like this, not just because he a a gay male writer himself, but also because he is an extremely talented writer with the skill and experience only an experienced poet is able to display. ( )
  PaulLoesch | Apr 2, 2022 |
"What Belongs to You" is a riveting story. Garth Greenwell created an evocative and pitiable character in Mitko. The joy and sadness surrounding this tale really tugged at this reader's heart strings. ( )
  Jeremias75 | Jan 3, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Greenwell, Garthprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anweiler, JustineCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Freeman, MaxAuthor photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For Alan Pierson and Max Freeman and for Luis Muñoz
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That my first encounter with Mitko B. ended in a betrayal, even a minor one, should have given me greater warning at the time, which should in turn have made my desire for him less, if not done away with it completely.
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"A haunting novel of erotic obsession by a major new talent On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher walks down a stairwell 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, a country with a difficult past and an uncertain future. 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"--

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