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What Belongs to You

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  10,654 ratings  ·  1,498 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 ...more
Hardcover, 195 pages
Published January 19th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Jacques de Villiers I really tire of these kinds of comments, which inevitably appear whenever an author breaks with standard punctuation, tense, average paragraph length…moreI really tire of these kinds of comments, which inevitably appear whenever an author breaks with standard punctuation, tense, average paragraph length, or what have you. Yes, we get it, you struggle with unconventional writing and you don't feel like the challenge. That's totally legitimate. But don't make out like the author's the ignorant one in this equation.(less)
Sketchbook It's the biography of evangelist Billy Graham.…moreIt's the biography of evangelist Billy Graham.(less)

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Average rating 3.77  · 
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 ·  10,654 ratings  ·  1,498 reviews

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Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This story cannot be fiction. If this is truly fiction, this author ranks among the best. There is too much here for it not to be based in truth. The story is so human. The writing is dense and rich, with long sentences (littered with punctuation) that demand to be read and re-read. Sentences masterfully crafted, each packed with information and emotion. There are no wasted lines. Skip just one and you will be clambering backwards trying to piece things together. Every chapter ends in a way that ...more
Adam Dalva
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous, fascinating debut, which is made all the more remarkable in its links to Greenwell's CLEANNESS, out this week. The expository middle section, a lengthy paragraph ruminating on coming-of-age as gay in the American South, contrasts wonderfully with the Bulgarian liasons of the narrator and Mitko, a charismatic hustler on a downward track, that sandwich it. Recommended. ...more
Larry H
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Some books dazzle you with plot twists and action, yet some books can truly wow you with the power of their storytelling, their language, and their imagery. Garth Greenwell's debut novel, What Belongs to You , definitely falls into the latter category. It's stunning, emotional, lyrical, and it quietly grabs you and doesn't let go.

One unseasonably warm afternoon in October, our narrator, an American teacher living in Bulgaria, goes to a restroom in Sofia's National Palace of Culture. This is
Jan 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2020
Self conscious and brooding, What Belongs to You sketches the shallow inner life of a gay expat. The unnamed American narrator is a teacher who has long since fled his conservative Southern hometown, leaving behind his estranged father, for the distance of a life abroad in war-torn Bulgaria. At the start of the story he’s just begun what will become a years-long relationship with Mitko, a brash but charming Bulgarian hustler with a mysterious past; the narrator alternates between charting the ri ...more
Richard Derus
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindled, quiltbag
Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: 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 hi
Elyse  Walters
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Update: I read this book awhile ago -- I'm happy to see it made the list of 2016 National Book Awards

"He only stood there an instant before he propelled himself forward and fell on top of me, and I must have flinched, I must have shut my eyes, so it wasn't a blow I felt on my face but his mouth, his tongue as it sought my own mouth, which I opened without thinking. I let him kiss me though it didn't seem like a kiss, his tongue in my mouth, it was an expression not of tenderness or desire but of
May 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended to Thomas by: Tyler Goodson
An American teacher in Bulgaria meets a charismatic young hustler, Mitko, in a public bathroom beneath Sofia's National Palace of Culture. He soon develops a heated, intimate relationship with Mitko, one built on desire and danger and fear. As our narrator struggles to navigate the fraught intensity he shares with Mitko, he re-encounters dark secrets from his southern childhood, memories that occupy him even when he lives a country away.

I wish I could agree with they hype on this one. I enjoyed
Julie Christine
I've been reading Rilke's On Love and Other Difficulties and find myself gasping in recognition at his discourse on the nature of love, lust, desire, and how we, the primal creatures that we are, seek to weave all these together into something that resembles a relationship.
At bottom, no one in life can help anyone else in life; this one experiences over and over in every conflict and every perplexity: that one is alone.
And never is one more alone than in the throes of helpless sexual desir
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What Belongs to You is a tragic story exquisitely told. We step backwards into the tale. First, we hear of the nameless young American, a teacher, who falls for a hustler in Sofia, Bulgaria, in the present day. Then we get the nameless young man’s backstory, his family dysfunction, a portrait of his horrible father and his extramarital affairs, the young man’s first love, coming to terms with his sexuality. Then we go back farther, back to the great-grandparents, and their loose daughter, the na ...more
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-read, usa
Garth Greenwell is a true master when it comes to conveying ambiguous feelings, doubts and insecurities - he finds such nuanced words and intricate images to describe emotional complexity, it's simply awe-inspring: This, ladies and gentlemen, is ART. In his debut novel, Greenwell tells the story of an unnamed American who works as an English teacher at a prestigious school in Sofia, Bulgaria. In a cruising bathroom, this teacher meets Mitko, a poor young man prostituting himself, and has sex wit ...more
Lee Klein
Apr 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The second section (of three) is so flowing and affecting. It seemed like it was written all in one sitting from experience. I found myself comparing this to a contemporary Proust, imagining how In Search of Lost Time would read if Albertine and associates were presented as Albert et al., like Proust without the heteronormative mask. The second section tracks the narrator's emerging awareness of his sexuality and then his first forays into the related experiences, both of which are wonderfully d ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
In early American lit, sensitive US chaps went to Europe and learned about "life" from older women, like Chad and Mme de Vionnet in The Ambassadors (a great role for Jeanne Moreau). In 21st Century lit, sensitive gay American men in Europe are learning bittersweet facts from rent boys in the Balkans. This is what happens in The Romanians by Bruce Benderson, and it happens here in a highly praised novel by Garth Greenwell, now the It Boy of "gay writers." (We can be thankful that Edmund White has ...more
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer-lit
He had always been alone, I thought, gazing at a world in which he had never found a place and that was now almost perfectly indifferent to him; he was incapable even of disturbing it, of making a sound it could be bothered to hear.
Garth Greenwell ~~ What Belongs to You


Regardless of what other reviewers may say, What Belongs to You is, at its core, a love story.

What Belongs to You is told from the point of view of a young American man who teaches at a university in Sofia, Bulgaria, and whose rel
Ron Charles
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: guys-wandering
“What Belongs to You” whispers like an incantation of desire. But even as Garth Greenwell’s novel sweats with lust, his prose keeps that heat contained in the crucible of remorse.

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 usually keen and insightful mind. That promise is fully realized here in the dark magic of these page
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it

What an amazing read this was. I can’t believe it’s a debut. It’s perfection is beyond as it’s written so well, I pounced on every word, I followed every line and action, sometimes gasping and sometimes holding my breath.

This is a romance, a gay romance.

But beware it sometimes leaves you enstranged.

It’s relationships, it’s sex and it’s sometimes mystical eroticism.

Beautifully written.
Garrard Conley
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Currently reading it a second time. No one has prettier sentences. The subject matter is important, and the sentences give it a dignity you cannot dismiss (even if you wanted to). I can't wait to buy the hardcover version! ...more
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Teresa by: Cathrine

The beautiful, first-person prose of this slim novel drives the narrative, though 'story' is not its focus. The introspective narrator is ambivalent, sees both sides of everything; and whether that's to his benefit or detriment is undecided.

Perhaps the reader is not as much of an outsider as the narrator, a gay American male working in Bulgaria; but the lyrical exploration of his aloneness makes even his obsessive nature relatable.

In an odd way, I was reminded of my recent read of My Sunshine
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
That's all care is, I thought, it's just looking at a thing long enough, why should it be a question of scale? This seemed like a hopeful thought at first, but then it's hard to look at things, or to look at them truly, and we can't look at many at once, and it's so easy to look away.

Garth Greenwell's debut novel, What Belongs to You, is told through three novellas, of sorts: Mitko, A Grave, and Pox. Each told from the perspective of our unnamed narrator, an American professor teaching abroa
Jessica Woodbury
I started this book during my reading slump and I put it aside. I realized that this book required more care than I was able to give it. I came back to it as soon as my slump ended and I'm glad I waited.

I am not always a fan of slim books of lyrical prose and deep emotions. If that is not normally your bag, I understand why you may avoid this title. You shouldn't. Yes, it is full of lyrical prose. Greenwell is a poet and you feel that delicacy and deliberateness in his language. But he also brin
Michael Flick
Jan 19, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: worst
I’m not quite sure what this is--perhaps a thesaurus masquerading as a novel, perhaps a Southern Gothic without the South, perhaps a Victorian novel revenant. Perhaps a mere wallow in shame, punishment, and disgust. A callow, conflicted gay man catches syphilis from a Bulgarian rent boy; melodrama precedes and ensues. The thin plot can’t sustain the verbiage, it collapses under the burden of words. Overwritten, drones on and on. And on. And on. Repetitive, redundant, says the same thing over and ...more
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book reads like Proust: a spellbinding remembrance of an encounter and its consequences. With little dialogue (and not a word wasted), it seems Greenwell presents to us his personal, hauntingly beautiful, diary. This is a powerful story that I will revisit and relive.
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
On some level I felt this story to be about loving that elusive someone who will never love you back. Glimpses into the narrator’s past support this idea that he associates desire with pain. Attraction with shame.

"I’ve sought it ever since, I think, the combination of exclusion and desire I felt in his room, beneath the pain of exclusion the satisfaction of desire; sometimes I think it’s the only thing I’ve sought."

It’s no wonder he feels so strongly for Mitko, who never surprises him and is al
Eric Anderson
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
So much of the greatest literature is made up of characters undone by desire. Most of it romantic and sexual. Desire that remains hidden or is revealed or explodes, that creates enlivening passion and that ultimately takes characters somewhere new or destroys them. Like in life, characters can be suddenly toppled by desire which can seemingly come out of nowhere and leaves them hanging upon a cliff edge. “What Belongs to You” is a love story about a man undone. But, more than that, it’s an ingen ...more
Lori Ostlund
Mar 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written. Greenwell occupies the character's body and mind so naturally, observing each detail and reaction. Wonderful book. ...more
lark benobi
Dec 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fsg, 2016
This novel was paired with Black Deutschland: A Novel in a New Yorker review, here:

Fair enough since both are about gay expatriate men looking for love in Europe, and both published by FSG...but where Black Deutschland opened me to a new world and new thoughts, What Belongs to You closed me, and left me feeling cramped and confined by its level of introspection, by its air of regret and loss. It's a truly claustrophobic story, from the first cramped scene
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, lgbtq
It took me a few days to absorb the ending and force of Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You.

A nameless American teacher working at a private school in Sofia strikes a very intense - at times abusive, at times tender - relationship with Mitko, a young Bulgarian hustler. The novel chronicles the length of their acquaintance, a couple of years at most, and leaves the characters on a note of tragic inevitability.

Divided into three parts, the second section of the novel goes back in time to the m
5 Stars
Okay, so when I first started reading this one, I didn't quite know what to make of it. It was beautifully written, but story doesn't jump out at you right away. I was hesitant about liking it in the beginning, I guess because it reads so differently than other books I'm currently into. But man did I fall in love with it!

Garth Greenwell's writing style in this novel is one that mixes an almost poetic use of prose with abstract thought. He certainly paint's a picture atmospherically as well as si
Joachim Stoop
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
4,5 stars. This is really, really good!
Lucy Dacus
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely stunning, almost uncomfortably stunning. At times brutal, then gentle. Always poetic.
A tale of lust as a dark necessity, of a man for whom desire is like a disease, a character shaped by the shame and sadness of his past. An American working as a teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria, the anonymous protagonist weaves together the story of his obsession with manipulative, vulnerable hustler Mitko and a painful account of his own coming-of-age. The narrator's confessions seem so personal, and many scenes so perfectly detailed and seem so clearly drawn from life, that it's difficult to rememb ...more
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Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which won the British Book Award for Debut of the Year, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for six other awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, it was named a Best Book of 2016 by over fifty pub ...more

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