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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2016 Garth Greenwell (P)2016 Recorded Books

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Intimate Narration of a Powerful Novel

Garth Greenwell's quiet but urgent style is superb and this, his debut, is stunning in every respect. His novel is a profound dissection of a character caught between desire and morality.

A young American man is working as a teacher in Bulgaria. There he meets and becomes infatuated with a young man named Mitko. Initially the two develop an intense relationship that exists at the axes of shame and desire.

Thereafter follows a period of self reflection which includes recollections shameful, humiliating, and alienating. Greenwell fearlessly confronts the difficulties of a young gay man coming to know himself with a genuineness that is humbling to the reader.

Lately, poet-novelists such as Garth Greenwell are forming the base of my favourite contemporary storytellers. They often bring a lyricism to their storytelling that weaves well with the audio form. Audio seems the perfect format in which to experience these authors. I'm deeply fond of Garth Greenwell's creation as told by Piter Marek, whose narration is intimate, sincere and perfect.

There has been much praise calling Greenwell's book "The Great Gay Novel". I think it stands with E. M. Forster's "Maurice", and with the novels of Alan Hollinghurst and David Leavitt. I'm very surprised to see it left off the Man Booker long list for this year; to me it's definitely one of the highlights of the past year and won't soon be forgotten.

This is a must read for people interested in LGBT fiction or anyone interested in fine literature.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Heartbreaking

I just couldn't stop listening. The author writes so many truths I didn't know before but the moment I read them I recognized them. Emotions I didn't know existed were there for me to understand and realized I had felt them before. I loved the characters and the narrator was perfect. This was a great book, the kind of book that makes you treat people differently after reading it because you just want to be kinder, especially to the ones that look like Mitko.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Painful, Uncomfortable, Beautiful

A gorgeously written book, with prose that manages to be almost poetic. Our narrator, who remains unnamed, is an American expat working as a teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is a foreigner, a non-fluent speaker of Bulgarian, a homosexual in a country where it is relegated to the shadows, an estranged son, and a man unsure of what he wants. Greenwell has written something that reads less as a novel with an overarching plot, than as a series of meditations or interludes dealing with broader themes of desire and disgust, belonging and ostracization, dominance and submission, facades and truth, shame and self-realization.

Told in three parts, the first and third sections deal largely with the narrator's life in Sofia and how that life is unsettled when he encounters a young man in an underground bathroom frequented by those seeking to purchase sexual favors. Mitko is at once a foil to and contrast with the narrator--electric and confident and forceful, chameleon-like as he plays to a customer's expectations. While Greenwell masterfully portrays the illicit encounters between Mitko and the narrator, conveying the combined lust and longing with the underlying tawdriness, the heart of the matter is not sex and the most interesting parts are not the sexual ones. Instead, you see both characters groping for identity and stability in their lives, and you witness the obvious and subtle manipulations Mitko works on the narrator and the narrator's own willingness to be manipulated. Even more, you see the interesting and shifting power dynamics, with the narrator being nominally in charge as the patron and Mitko in desperate need for money, but with Mitko in control of how close he allows the narrator to get and wielding his magnetism (and later a certain physical intimidation and threat of violence) that makes his position often seem superior. Perhaps most striking is the ongoing description of how the narrator wants this to be more than a paid encounter, wants to think of himself as benevolent and them as friends, wants to avoid being crude or crass. By the third section, the sexual relationship is all but over (with two years having passed from the initial section), the narrator is in a committed relationship, but Mitko still manages to have an out-sized effect on the narrator's daily life.

The middle section is told mostly in flashback and recalls the narrator awakening to his attraction to men, his first physical encounters, and the deterioration and eventual severing of his relationship with his father. Here we meet his stepsisters, get insight into how the utter rejection by his father shaped him, and the secrets his father was keeping. Through the step-sister and the father, we find echoes of earlier themes dealing with the faces we present to the world and the aching need to belong.

A brief but beautiful book, painful in turns and uncomfortable, but a treasure.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Really remarkable. It stays with you.

I doubted whether or not I would enjoy this and dismissed it as "alt gay" literature at first. Its nothing of the sort and it's representation of an unknown culture and western privilege has stayed with me. Beautifully written and heartbreaking.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Do Not Be Tempted

Not since attempting to read Hausfrau have I read a book that moves at such a snails pace, has such a limited and uninteresting plot line and such dull characters. It is hard to think of a single redeemable thing about the book. The subject matter didn't bother me. In fact it is what first piqued my attention. But it was simply painful to read. I read several glowing reviews and I agree that the author writes poetically, but sacrificing a story for beautifully flowing prose isn't a sacrifice I like to make. I cannot recommend this book.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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A storyline worth following

I'll admit, I had my hesitations coming into the first chapter - assuming it was another trick-to-romance story - but the storyline was so well written and you really got to know the protagonist intimately. Wonderfully written!
Also, this was my first Audible book and I was highly satisfied!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Read for a college class and glad I did.

this book was assigned reading in my Sexuality English class. I found this book very interesting and engaging.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Fred Bove
  • San Francisco, CA United States
  • 08-16-17

Riveting and intimate

The authors affair with Mitko is the central draw of this book. While parts 1and 3 describe a heartbreaking arc , part 2 stands alone and might have been a separate book

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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this narrator is a no.

i'd read this book in hard copy and it is brilliant, so i can tell you that this narrator's lack of preparation and/or skill is maddening.
narrator: someone worked long and hard to write a novel that's really quite masterful and your narration took that precise, thoughtful work and downgraded it. are you not aware that not placing the emphasis in the right place in sentences, mispronouncing words, etc, is disrespectful to an author who has crafted every sentence, chosen every word, with exacting care?
if you record another book, it might be nice to work a little harder on it as you are the representative of the author and so are beholden to listeners to do your level best to make the work in question shine.

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nice story and narrating

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, because it's an interesting and reads rhythmically like a beautiful poem

Who was your favorite character and why?

Mieko

Which scene was your favorite?

cruising in the basement of the library

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

sex

Any additional comments?

beautifully written and intriguing story. The narrator's voice matches the story very well.