What Belongs to You ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
He’s an American teacher living in Sofia, Bulgaria, teaching English at a prestigious American school. We never know his name. He is telling the story in his first-person voice. The story revolves around the narrator’s destructive relationship with a rent boy named Mitko, and, while their relationship is a sexual one, we never have to suffer through any explicit details.
The narrator comes to love Mitko, knowing all along that he is a user, a liar, and a self-aggrandizing manipulator; he is charming and good-looking and he knows how to use these qualities to his benefit. He can also at times be menacing and threatening when he doesn’t get his way. We see a portrait here of a mentally unbalanced young man who knows how to manipulate people to achieve his ends.
We come to see that Mitko has a terrible life, and, despite his youth, is in failing health. While the narrator tries to live a respectable life in his apartment, going to work every day, Mitko shows up periodically at his doorstep whenever he wants something. He frequently lies to get money, which makes him an extortionist, among all the other things he is. The love that the narrator feels for Mitko soon turns to pity as he sees that Mitko is falling apart. He cannot deny Mitko anything, knowing all along that lies and betrayal are a part of everything Mitko does.
While What Belongs to You is the story of a friendship, it is also a story about the nature of destructive and obsessive love. One of the best novels I’ve read in a while and unlike anything I’ve read before. Written in a unique, compelling and accessible style by a writer named Garth Greenwell. There are a lot of words in this novel, but never too many, always just right. Every word rings true.
The first-person narration is all introspective but never self-indulgent or whiny, as it could have been. On a different level, it’s a story, which I found fascinating, about life in modern-day Bulgaria, a country of 7.2 million in southeast Europe, a country that is collapsing and crumbling in many ways, a country that has lived through Soviet occupation, a country that is not what it once was. As a stranger in a strange land, the narrator navigates his way through two different health clinics, knowing only a smattering of the language, the public transportation system, and everyday life in a foreign capital. Some books are so good and so different from anything else that reading them is like being given a gift. This is one of them.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp