"In Garth Greenwell's incandescent first novel,
an old tale is made new, and made punishing."
― Dwight Garner, The New York Times

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.

Read an excerpt from What Belongs to You at VICE.

Read an excerpt at FSG's Work in Progress.


"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

"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 ... The novel inhabits conventional motifs in order to renovate them ... 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

"In Garth Greenwell's incandescent first novel, an old tale is made new, and made punishing ... Parse[s] the largest questions about human loyalty and compassion ... 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. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell." ― Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"Brilliant and intense ... Greenwell proves himself a master of driving to the heart of obsession, fear, and love." ― Publishers Weekly, The Top 10 Books of 2016

"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

"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 ... Headily accomplished ... What Belongs to You is an essential work of our time." ― Jonathan McAloon, The Telegraph

"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, The New Yorker, My Favorite Books of 2016

"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 kind of writes like Virginia Woolf, actually." ― GQ, The Best Books of 2016

"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 ... The interior battle with childhood traumas that first led the narrator to look for love in such a disastrously inappropriate place reaches a new elegiac ferocity.  This, it turns out, is not a novel about hustlers at all, but about the lasting damage that a loveless childhood can inflict ... The last sequence includes some marvellous vignettes of loving kindness between parents and children, but they are presented as something that only other people can ever have, and the final pages of the book are memorable for their bleak and desperate sadness." ― Neil Bartlett, The Guardian

"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

"The first great novel of 2016 ... Rivals books like Hanya Yanagihara or Ferrante's Neapolitan novels ... The ending will probably destroy you (if I remember correctly, my reaction was something like a pained 'Oh.'). And in Mitko, Greenwell has created one of the best characters of recent years. What Belongs to You is a great tragedy, and Greenwell is a great writer." Gabe Habash, Publishers Weekly (staff pick)

"Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You is a lyrical contemplation of desire, love and identity … Written in meditative, generous prose, it is at once formally accomplished and intimate, high-minded but personal, witty but substantive. It’s the best first novel I’ve read in a generation."  Andrew Solomon, The Guardian Best Books of 2016

"My favourite book of the year, however, was a debut: Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You ... In dense, emotional prose, Greenwell creates a fascinating, isolated character tormented by his past, struggling with his present and uncertain of his future." ― John Boyne, The Independent, The Best Books of 2016

"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 ... This is a novel of aggressive introspection, but Greenwell writes with such candor and psychological precision that the effect is oddly propulsive ... In the end, a novel like this can’t offer any resolution except its perfect articulation of despair that anyone with a heart will hear." ― Ron Charles, Washington Post

"Full of insight and an arresting resistance to moral certainty … He 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, Times Literary Supplement

"An authentic talent ... An important novel ... [Greenwell] has written the least comforting love story of recent years. He deserves our gratitude." ― Matteo Persivale, Corriere della Sera

"I sat down to read a chapter of What Belongs to You one afternoon and ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting, hunched over my kitchen table until dark. Garth Greenwell's devastatingly beautiful novel about a gay American expat in Bulgaria and his on-again, off-again relationship with a sex worker named Mitko has been one of the year's breakout hits, and for good reason. It's a virtuosic, tender exploration of loneliness and desire, with sentences so breathtaking you'll find yourself returning to them over and over again." ― Carmen Maria Machado, NPR, Best Books of 2016

"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 ... It is perhaps too soon to say precisely what Greenwell's own fictional territory will look like - but even this early on, the landscape looks too riveting to miss." ― Alex Clark, The Guardian

"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

"Garth Greenwell's first novel is gilded with the kind of praise that debut writers might never dare to imagine for themselves. The quotes sprinkle the book cover like a coat of glitter, marking it out for greatness ... On reading this slight book – the size of a novella with the gravity of a novel – I realise that none of it is hyperbole. The praise is earned ... Every utterance seems imbued with thought that is deep and beautiful in its clarity." ― Arifa Akbar, The Independent

"Nothing was as stunning this year as the shape and beauty of Greenwell’s sentences. Whether writing about erotic obsession or the way dust passes through afternoon light on a city bus, Greenwell is an artist whose talent lies in portraying experience as a sort of radiance." ― Christian Lorentzen, Vulture, 10 Best Books of 2016

"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

"A triumph ... The novel takes its place on a rare shelf of fiction that includes James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room and André Aciman's Call Me by Your Name ... Greenwell's gorgeous, roaming prose untangles questions of transaction, identity, cruelty, and just how much of knowing a stranger is willful invention. Along the way, certain observations...strike so deep, they bleed." ― Christopher Bollen, Interview

"Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You is the great gay novel for our times ... An astonishing debut." ― Jeffrey Zuckerman, The New Republic

"Expansive, revelatory, and poetic." ― Esquire, The Best Books of 2016 So Far

"Feelings of shame, humiliation, and embarrassment have rarely been as vividly described as they are in Garth Greenwell’s debut novel What Belongs to You ... This novel is just as good as everyone has been saying it is because it isn’t afraid to go further and further into areas that most of us would rather forget or leave alone. We can’t do that, though, without repeating errors and violence down to us in new and twisted ways ourselves. That’s what What Belongs to You is about in its unsparing way, and that’s why it is necessary, and subversively exciting, because it says things that need to be said." ― Dan Callahan, Brooklyn Magazine

"Garth Greenwell's 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 Best Books of 2016

"A luminous, important, wonderful book ... 2016 has been bad enough, people. Don't forget that it gave us this book." ― Emily Temple, LitHub

"By illuminating the dividing lines in our unequal world, Greenwell’s novel challenges us to think about privilege, especially our own ... What Belongs To You presents a challenging and refreshing vision of gay life. It’s an original addition to the line of fiction which, from Henry James to Ben Lerner, chronicles the lives of Americans in Europe. Greenwell painstakingly captures desire in all its complex, double-edged intensity, as the narrator describes falling asleep in Mitko’s arms “held like his beloved or his child; or held … like his captive or his prey. Erotic holding, emotional withholding and the question of who holds power in a relationship are all examined in a work which gripped me all the way to its sad and beautiful ending." ― Max Liu, The Independent on Sunday

"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

"Spellbinding ... With things as they now are in the US, it couldn't feel more essential." ― The Evening Standard, The Best Books of 2016

"My novel of the year was What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell’s slender, poised, clear-eyed and devastating account of the depths to which unrequited sexual obsession can lead you." ― Peter Parker, The Spectator, The Best Books of 2016

"What Belongs to You speaks of desire and the lives of those who desire with exquisite specificity and power, and will haunt you long after you turn the final page." ― BuzzFeed, The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2016

"Must be without question one of the greatest American novels of recent times ... For its mastery of tone and its expert drawing together of a number of disparate elements, Greenwell's narrative feat is utterly remarkable, and the final ten pages amount to one of the most moving passages this reviewer has ever read in contemporary fiction." ― Paddy Kehoe, RTE Entertainment

"What Belongs to You is Garth Greenwell's first novel, but it arrives in this country decked out with praise from his native America... When that volume of applause carries across the Atlantic it tends to herald a self-consciously ambitious doorstopper of a book, but 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 ... What Belongs to You is an uncommonly sensitive, intelligent and poignant novel." ― Sunday Times

"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. What Belongs to You is one of the most interesting and important books you will read this year." ― Dominic Amerena, The Australian

"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

"What Belongs to You is outstanding in just about every way a novel can be." — Drew Nellins Smith, The Los Angeles Times

"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." — Claude Peck, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“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

"Graceful and fearless ... a haunting work." — Vanity Fair

"What Belongs to You is Greenwell’s debut novel, but this masterfully told story seems certain to find a permanent place on the shelf of modern American classics." — Jayne Moore Waldrop, The Courier-Journal

"A dazzling debut novel ... 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 ... By the end of What Belongs to You, I was convinced that I, too, had traveled. I’d been thrust into another world, where the tug-of-war between desire and violence might end badly, where the ugliness of financial need kept intruding on tenderness. All of this occurs in the context of Greenwell’s never-ending hope that somehow understanding — as well as a moral imperative — will resolve such struggle." ― Bruce Benderson, OUT

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

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

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

"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…You know a book has its grip on you if the world within it is so rich, so exquisitely tense, that you resent the real one for keeping you from it." — Christopher Frizzelle, The Stranger

"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

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

"What Belongs to You comes to feel, in the end, like a great enactment of an infatuation, exciting and appalling by turnsa brilliantly observed account of an attempt to make another person entirely yours, to subsume them within your story." Jonathan Lee, Guernica

"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

"Greenwell's beautiful prose paints the year's most vivid portrait of the way our past pain and our scars coalesce and make us who we are." ― Nylon, The Best Books of 2016

"A truly stunning debut ... A masterpiece ... A literary star is born." ― Janice Forsyth, BBC Radio Scotland

"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

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

"[An] extraordinary new talent." ― Georgina Godwin, Monocle 24

"The most exacting and visionary reading in contemporary literature of what it means to be gay in America today ... Finally, the response this book offers to the question of what belongs to us, if it is not quite joyful, is hopefuland key to understanding what makes it the great gay novel of today ... 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 choosingin another room, another country, another futureat the end of the street, just out of sight." Jameson Fitzpatrick, The Millions

"Devastating … Plenty of other publications have given What Belongs to You the praise it deserves, including comparisons to Mann and Nabokov. Not every writer can pull off long, architectural sentences that nestle into one another like Russian dolls, but Greenwell is not every writer. I can’t wait to see what he does next." — Adam Morgan, Chicago Review of Books, Best Books of 2016

"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

"This is a project of rare discernment and beauty, and it is not to be missed. A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past."  Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 

"Greenwell's novel is a brave and articulate psychological exploration of lust and desire ... the carnal pain on display is striking."  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Garth Greenwell starts 2016 on a high note with a novel that can be called truly great ... Plumbing the depths of sexuality and psychology, What Belongs to You is lingering and haunting." ― Meredith Turits, Elle

"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

"[A] remarkable debut novel that already feels like a classic." ― Jim Farley, The Gay and Lesbian Review

"Garth Greenwell is out to wreck you with his devastating debut novel ... The novel's stark Eastern European stage, combined with Greenwell's layered and lyrical prose, make for a story at once brutal and beautiful to behold. What Belongs to You is true, heartbreaking art; it belongs on your bookshelf." ― Lincoln Thompson, BuzzFeed

"A slender and achingly beautiful novel full of the gloriously messy pain of unrequited and inappropriate love." ― Stylist

"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

"What Belongs to You is a haunting, gorgeous, and fierce debut, capturing desire in every sentence." ― Alex Madison, The Rumpus

"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

"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. This is a sumptuous, stunning and unsettling first novel that must be read and celebrated." ― Sam Coale, Providence Journal

"No contemporary American author I know writes sex better than Garth Greenwell ... Many, myself included, will want to slide What Belongs to You between such gay classics as Giovanni’s Room and Death in Venice, both clear ancestors, or next to a luminous cousin like Bruce Benderson’s The Romanian. But 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

"Harrowing … Greenwell’s writing is lyrical but always sharply observed, the economy and depth of the sentences recalling WG Sebald and Françoise Sagan at their best – but it is also a style of prose that feels wholly original. … Greenwell’s novel is an important exploration of queer identity and the question of how queer lives might exist outside of the mainstream." ― James Pulford, Review 31 (UK), Best Novels of 2016

"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 ... 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." ― Valerie Stivers, An Anthology of Clouds

"What Belongs to You is a complex and beguiling novel ... I read it quickly, with ardor, wonder, and gratitude as a meditation on love." ― McKay McFadden, New Orleans Review

"Exquisite ... It would be difficult to overstate what Greenwell has accomplished in What Belongs to You. This beautiful, affecting novel will long linger with readers." Rob Cline, The Gazette

"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."  Dave Wheeler, Shelf Awareness

"Garth Greenwell’s breathtaking What Belongs to You ... is a little like if Marguerite Yourcenar returned to us with Bruce Benderson’s obsessions."  Alexander Chee, The Millions