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, their relationship growing increasingly intimate and unnerving.
As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history: his formative experiences of love, his painful rejection by family and friends, and the difficulty of growing up as a gay man in southern America in the 1990s.
Startlingly erotic and immensely powerful, What Belongs to You tells an unforgettable story about the ways our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.
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
As part of my series of blog posts about LGBT fiction, I’ve read a book that won’t appeal to everyone, which is sad, because it’s an incredible piece of literature! What Belongs to You by Gareth Greenwell deals with the themes of loss, rejection, identity and culture and how all these shape the adults we become.
The formative years of our lives can have a huge impact on how we navigate the extraordinarily chaotic nature of relationships we form as adults. Gareth Greenwell has written a book which captures with astute honestly, the damage that can be done to LGBT people by the negative judgment of family and community. Especially when as young adults they are struggling to accept their sexuality and place in a world, which sees them as different from what’s considered ‘normal’.
Telling the tale of an American lecturer who meets Mitko, a hustler with whom he enters a relationship of sorts, veering from instant sexual attraction to anguished rejection. It’s honest in its depiction of their sexual relationship and though powerfully erotic, this is not eroticism designed to titillate or shock, but a candid look at a relationship born from a need for physical contact.
Both the main characters are deeply flawed and damaged individuals, which makes them fascinating to read about. I found myself swaying from sympathy to deeply felt frustration towards both the American and Mitko, as both take advantage of the other’s weaknesses. Yet at the same time I found it equally effortless to care about them, because they are so damaged.
I recently saw a review that stated the book was boring because nothing happens, for me that misses the point of the story. It’s not full of action, of events, or grand gestures, but is a moving depiction of two men and the bond that connects them. In fact it is a master class in character led storytelling.
What Belongs To You will stay with me for some time to come and is a story I think will stand the test of time. So intricate that the more times it is read, the richer the reading experience will be!
What Belongs To You can be purchased from Amazon