What Belongs to You: A Novel (Hardcover)

What Belongs to You: A Novel By Garth Greenwell Cover Image
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Longlisted for the National Book Award in Fiction • A Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction • A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction • A Finalist for the James Taite Black Prize for Fiction A Finalist the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize • A Finalist for the Green Carnation Prize A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice A Los Angeles Times Bestseller

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by More Than Fifty Publications, Including: The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times (selected by Dwight Garner), GQ, The Washington Post, Esquire, NPR, Slate, Vulture, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (London), The Telegraph (London), The Evening Standard (London), The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Millions, BuzzFeed, The New Republic (Best Debuts of the Year), Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly (One of the Ten Best Books of the Year)

"Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You appeared in early 2016, and is a short first novel by a young writer; still, it was not easily surpassed by anything that appeared later in the year....It is not just first novelists who will be envious of Greenwell's achievement."—James Wood, The New Yorker

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.

About the Author

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 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 publications in nine countries, and is being translated into a dozen languages. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, A Public Space, and VICE, and he has written criticism for The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review, among others. He lives in Iowa City.

Praise For…


"In an age of the sentence fetish, Greenwell thinks and writes, as Woolf or Sebald do, in larger units of comprehension . . . Rhythm, order, music, and lucid expression: there is undeniably a mandarin quality to the way that Greenwell narrows the frame of his inquiry and then perfectly fills this reduced space. But if the novel's formal control has a rare delicacy there is nothing at all hermetic about the story the narrator tells, which has a bitter urgency." —James Wood, The New Yorker

"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." —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"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, The New York Times Book Review

"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

“[What Belongs to You] is outstanding in just about every way a novel could be.” —Drew Nellins Smith, Los Angeles Times

“Elegant . . . [Greenwell] describes with sensuous and often unflattering precision the union of shame and desire. . . beautifully wrought.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"The best first novel I've read in a generation." —Andrew Solomon, The Guardian's Best Books of 2016

"It's the specificity of Garth Greenwell's observations that give this debut novel its emotional power" —Rupert Thomson, The Guardian's Best Books of 2016

"What Belongs to You manages to condense the physical and metaphysical nature of longing and desire into prose that turned me on and broke my heart. A classic." —Damian Barr, The Guardian's Best Books of 2016

"Expansive, revelatory, and poetic." —Esquire, the Best Books of 2016 So Far

"Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You appeared early in 2016, and is a short first novel by a young writer; still, it was not easily surpassed by anything that appeared later in the year...It is not just first novelists who will envy Greenwell's achievement." —James Wood's favorite books of 2016

"Greenwell uses a fluent realism to set the capital of Sofia as the backdrop for the failings of both narrator and his beloved. And the author's long additive phrasings keep the novel humming throughout ... What Belongs to You remains troubling and compelling in its unflinching look at desire." —Slate, the Best Books of 2016 So Far

"The year's best debut." —Alex Shephard, The New Republic

"The destructive aftereffects of totalitarian regimes are shown to have a radioactive half-life in [this] exceptional novel." —Guy Trebay, The 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

"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..." —Alex Clark, The Guardian

"Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You renders in exquisite observational and emotional detail a young gay American teacher’s sojourn in Bulgaria, centering on his turbulent relationship with a hustler. Daringly and convincingly composed, it’s a book about desire’s complexity, the painful intensity of youth and a commitment to careful seeing as a path to artistic revelation." —Minnesota Star Tribune

“This masterfully told story seems certain to find a permanent place on the shelf of modern American classics." —Jayne Moore Waldrop, The Courier-Journal

“Greenwell’s novel is an elegant and graphic depiction of gay male desire, written in supple, unsentimental prose.” —Thomas Chatterton Williams, San Francisco Chronicle

"With his debut novel, What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell works in traditions forged by queer novelists both past and present....A major achievement." —Steven Cordoba, Lambda Literary Review

“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." —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You is the Great Gay Novel for our times . . . an astonishing debut." —Jeffrey Zuckerman, The New Republic

"What Belongs to You is one of the most fearless and heartbreaking accounts of desire that I can remember reading, worthy of its comparisons to James Baldwin and Alan Hollinghurst as well as Virginia Woolf and W.G. Sebald ... It is a novel of rejection and disgust, displacement and transcendence, and I found myself trembling as I read it." —Johanna Thomas-Corr, Evening Standard

"A great portrayal of obsession … It is in his prose that Greenwell displays his mastery. A relentless logic undergirds his fluid, sighing sentences, an exacting observation of the profit and loss behind the lovers' interactions." —Maria Dimitrova, The New Statesman

"Garth Greenwell's debut novel aches with desire and tenderness ... 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." ?Jarry Lee, BuzzFeed

"Powerful ... One of the stand out debuts of 2016. This is a book that will stay with you long after you read it, and will be remembered as an important novel." —Cultured Vultures, The Best Books of 2016 So Far

"Greenwell delves deeply into the theatricalities of desire ... But it's [his] carefully crafted and controlled prose that dazzles amid the melancholy, self-doubt and uncertain shifts in his narrator's psyche that entrances the reader. We're privy to a kind of confession with no holds barred when it comes to sex, wariness, distrust and pure unadulterated lust." —Sam Coale, Providence Journal

"A hauntingly beautiful tribute to unrequited love ... What Belongs to You announces the arrival of a startlingly fresh and brilliant new voice." —Greg Klassen, Winnipeg Free Press

"Greenwell never shies away from the problematic dynamic that defines the interactions (or perhaps transactions) between the two main characters ... But there is an undeniable tenderness to this novel, and Greenwell brilliantly subverts the narrative of shame and disgust that defines many literary depictions of gay sex ... Greenwell's poignant, clear-eyed debut deserves every word of praise it has received." —Dominic Amerena, The Australian

“Brilliant … One of the most surprising debut novels to come along in years ... As Greenwell shows us with this beautiful, fluent novel, art is the voice that eradicates distance. It is the voice of love.” –Patrick Nathan, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Brilliant and intense ... Greenwell proves himself a master of driving to the heart of obsession, fear, and love." —Publishers Weekly, Best Ten books of 2016

"Beautifully written and desperately sad, this is a masterpiece of literary fiction?and an instant gay classic." —Winq

"Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You beautifully plumbs the depths of physical desire to reveal the profound way sexuality defines our sense of ourselves in the world, the way the body's unquenchable longings shape our relationships and our friendships, our loneliness and our ability to love." -Matthew Griffin, The Guardian

"Feelings of shame, humiliation, and embarrassment have rarely been as vividly described as they are in Garth Greenwell’s debut . . . necessary and subversively exciting . . . it says things that need to be said." —Dan Callahan, Brooklyn Magazine

“If you care about gay culture and/or good writing, you need to read Garth Greenwell’s debut, What Belongs to You.” —Rich Juzwiak, Gawker

“Graceful and fearless . . . a haunting work.” —Vanity Fair

"An astonishing debut novel . . . What Belongs to You stands naturally alongside the great works of compromised sexual obsession such as Thomas Mann's Death in Venice [and] Nabokov's Lolita. . . Headily accomplished . . . What Belongs to You is an essential work of our time." —Daily Telegraph

"The various settings and transactions involved are described with a detached, carefully styled literary brutalism that feels very of the moment; however, the emotional geography of the story could have come straight from Proust. . . . By the end of this short, intense novel it becomes clear that the collision between our hard-won new capacity for frankness and a deep-rooted sense of archaic guilt and grief is precisely Greenwell's subject." —Neil Bartlett, The Guardian

"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." —Meredith Turits, ELLE.com

“Greenwell’s graceful, pulsating sentences are lined with such spare and sensual imagery, yet manage to include cultural observations, the drift of memories, and honest emotion, too. . . A dazzling debut novel.” —Bruce Benderson, OUT Magazine

“Greenwell’s masterful first novel suggests that in addition to all the pain we inherit, something else might belong to us too: something of our choosing—in another room, another country, another future—at the end of the street, just out of sight.” —James Fitzpatrick, The Millions

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.” —Jonathan Lee, Guernica

"What Belongs to You is a refreshingly slim, subdued and contemplative piece of work . . . Greenwell writes in long, consummately nuanced sentences, strung with insights and soaked in melancholy . . an uncommonly sensitive, intelligent and poignant novel." The Sunday Times

"Garth Greenwell's first novel is gilded with the kind of praise that debut writers might never dare to imagine for themselves. . . . The praise is earned . . 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 UK

"Lushly written....Mitko is a singular creation: proud, violent, tender, pitiable and, in the end, unforgettable." —Tom Beer, Newsday

"These 'little theaters of heat,' these packets of desire or panic or imminence, these doublings-down of doubt and upswellings of confidence—these concentrations of feeling are Greenwell's subject. The novel is explicitly set in Bulgaria, but implicitly it is set on the staging ground of intensity itself….We are given access to an interior radiance that's blazing and singular, and has much to say about language, about class, about heritage, about desire, about deceit." —Christopher Frizzelle, The Stranger

"Equal parts sexy and painful (and more often than not blurring the lines between the two), the book dives deep into matters of cultural differences, shame, illness, and human relationships." —Anna Fitzpatrick, NYLON

“There is so much to praise in What Belongs to You.. . let us not view this as merely a great gay novel, though it is one. Let us include What Belongs to You among great novels period, novels of consciousness as diverse as Austerlitz and As I Lay Dying. That is where it belongs.” —Micah Stack, Fiction Advocate

“[A] remarkable debut novel that already feels like a classic.” —Jim Farley, The Gay & Lesbian Review

“Right from its heady, lusty outset, Garth Greenwell's ravishing debut novel, What Belongs to You, whirls into a storm both erotically and psychologically charged . . . What Belongs to You is as deliciously unpredictable as the object of the narrator's affection. At once tense, introspective, vexing and erotic, it easily entwines itself with a willing reader, and lingers.” —Dave Wheeler, Shelf Awareness

“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.” —Alex Madison, The Rumpus

"A meticulous stylist . . . Greenwell's lines tease and tear at the soul." —The Millions, (Most Anticipated preview)

“I was beginning to think the literary world had given up on sincerity. Too often these days, love, desire, lust, and obsession are treated with eye-rolls of cynicism or comedy. The fallen stock in genuine emotion makes Garth Greenwell’s debut novel, What Belongs to You, that much more of a triumph.” —Christopher Bollen, Interview

“[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.” —Gabe Habash, Publishers Weekly (Staff Pick)

“I don't usually like to say these things, but Garth Greenwell is a remarkable new talent.” —Amie Barrodale, VICE

“Sexually frank, deeply felt, and admirably constructed . . . This provocative tale rests on the theme—to which we can all respond—of the human need for possession.” —Brad Hooper, Booklist

"Eloquent & emotionally wrenching... A superb evocation of that curious state known as love; of knowing, as the title has it, what belongs to you and realizing what can never be yours... Greenwell's shimmering novel recounts an age-old story with such toughness and tenderness as to make it seem new." —Donal O'Donoghue, RTE Guide (Ireland)

“There is a sense in which two people with their clothes off in a room bring everything in their lives in with them, but I’ve never before found a writer who is able to convey it as well as Greenwell can, in elegant, formal sentences. He is the new voice I’m most excited about for 2016, the writer whose style feels the most like he’s made up a new way of speaking. . . His shames are both common and terribly sad, beginning with his father’s violent rejection of his homosexuality. He expresses this history in a single, forty-page paragraph that again in the precision of its psychology is almost like nothing I’ve ever read.” —Valerie Stivers, An Anthology of Clouds

“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 André 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

“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 Jack Holmes and His Friend

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

“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 passionharnessed 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 seemed at first 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

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374288228
ISBN-10: 0374288224
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: January 19th, 2016
Pages: 208
Language: English