Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#BookReview: What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

On the jacket:

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. 


I'll be honest, I haven't read a lot of LGBT literature. When the prospect of reading What Belongs To You came, along with high reccomendations, I had to pick it up.  

Has it ever happened to you that you've read a work of fiction but it seems very real? As if you have lived that? a lot of times, yes. When I was reading What Belongs To You, the first thing that kept me glued to it was how real the 'story' is. You know deep within that this could be anybody's story, or segments from lives of different people. Our protagonist, or the narrator is unnamed. The story begins with his encounter with the very charismatic and irresistable Mitko. They met at a public washroom and soon they were in an intimate relationship. I will be honest, I didn't fall in love with the story from the first page. The plot grew on me as I turned the pages - the credit of which goes hands down to the style of writing and storytelling. 

There are so many facets to the story that one might think they will get lost, but that doesn't happen. Mitko's life - how and why he starts to use his body to survive, and then the narrator and his sexual obsession with Mitko. The story is set in Bulgaria where our narrator, who is an American buying sexual flavours from Mitko, while what he really wants is love.
There are subtle references to the way the characters are developed which made me put the book aside from time to time, and just imagine them. Like how the narrator was practically desperate and needy for Mitko, yet took quite a satisfaction in giving money to the homeless Russian when he needed it. It gave him a feeling of surperiority and paved the consensus that they were not equal. Made sense, for they were in a society where a homosexual relationship should not be made public.

Rating: ****/5


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