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What Belongs to You


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

"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.

"In an age of the sentence fetish, Greenwell thinks and writes, as Woolf or Sebald do, in larger units of comprehension....Brilliantly self-aware...Greenwell's novel impresses for many reasons, not least of which is how perfectly it fulfills its intentions. But it gains a different power from its uneasy atmosphere of psychic instability, of confession and penitence, of difficult forces acknowledged but barely mastered and beyond the conscious control of even this gifted novelist."―James Wood, The New Yorker

"The best first novel I've read in a generation."―Andrew Solomon, The Guardian (Best Books of the Year)

“What Belongs to You whispers like an incantation of desire....In Greenwell’s poetic sentences, emotional fearlessness is mated with extraordinary sensitivity to the tremors of regret.”―Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"What Belongs to You is the most stirring, understated book I read this year. Greenwell’s voice is measured, built on careful observations and quiet gestures. He kinda writes like Virginia Woolf, actually."―GQ (Best Books of the Year)

“Exquisite...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

"In Garth Greenwell's incandescent first novel, What Belongs to You, an old tale is made new and made punishing....There's suppleness and mastery in his voice. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell....A subtle observer of human interactions. He underscores the way expressions of love are nearly always, in part, performance."―Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“A tale of sexual obsession set to be a classic...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....What Belongs to You is an essential work of our time.”―Daily Telegraph (London)

“Full of insight and an arresting resistance to moral certainty...[Greenwell] imbues his prose with a bewitching combination of ethereal somnolence, luminosity, and brutal rumination....This command of form can also be felt in the larger structures of the novel: in the rhythm and tone of its paragraphs, and in the cumulative music of the book as a whole.”―Matthew Adams, The Times Literary Supplement

"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

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