Sunday, August 28, 2016

Love & Loss in a Foreign Land {Bulgaria}

What Belongs to You | Garth Greenwell

4.5/5 stars
Globetrotting Mom: Love & Loss in a Foreign Land {Globetrotting with Books #4: Bulgaria}

This book is a collection of experiences from the eyes of the narrator, a gay American professor, teaching English in one of the poorest countries in Europe, Bulgaria. Although it is a ‘novel’ it is by the author’s own account, very autobiographical. It’s hailed as the greatest gay novels of our times, and is probably so, unless you fixate on the very graphic  sex scenes (Is there any other type of sex scene in this day & age?)

Before it turns you into a homophobe (I’m being a bit dramatic here!) you step into part 2 (there are 3 parts) and it takes you through a poignant journey into the narrators past, his childhood in rural Kentucky. The stories are bleak. At best. By the time you get used to Garth Greenwells long windy sentences (Why does he love commas so much? And what is it about paragraphs that ticks him off?) and swim in his world of stray observations (a little girl playing in the park, a little boy playing in the train) the book is over, and you realise no one really is happy. The only fleeting moments of happiness are bits from his own childhood and from keenly observing the two little kids and even these are touch & go, when the narrator realises that the odds of the children being successful & happy are stacked up against them.

The narrator navigates awkwardly with broken (local) language within the Sofia & Varna. The clandestine nature of the public bathroom at the National Palace of Culture, apartment blocks called Blokoves that represent the soviet model of collective life, the Monday morning dourness in a bumpy ride in the metallic green bus of the 76 line, abandoned construction sites, and the not so coveted medical facilities made more bleak by the unempathetic staff. 

Most people who are remotely smart seem to flee from the country for a better future. Jobs, employment opportunities are bleak in the “narrowing horizon of diminished expectations”. And because of that, or perhaps irrespective of that, the narrator questions his own life choices that brought him here. Switching paths seems pointless as “series of false starts become difficult to defend as you get older”.

And then of course there is Mitko. A hustler, whose character you don’t seem to put in a finger on, till you realise you did, right at the beginning. While the narrator navigates through the foreign country, he falls in love with the most unlikely character, he knows he should stay away from but is drawn in with a force he’d never known.

Here’s an excerpt:

For all that I avoided such offices the images, with their warnings about precautions and preventions, had long been part of my post private sense of myself. I grew up at he height of the AIDS panic, when the desire and disease seemed essentially bound together, the relationship between them not something that could be managed but absolute and unchangeable, a consequence and its cause. Disease was the only story anyone ever told ever told about men like me where I was from, and it flattened my life to a morality tale, in which I could be either chaste or condemned. Maybe that’s why, when I finally did have sex, it wasn’t so much pleasure I sought as the exhilaration of setting aside restraint, of pretending not to be afraid, a thrill of release so intense it was almost suicidal.

As Junot Diaz correctly put it, “The news that you bring to the world is what we need as artists & what we need as people who love to read.” This is exactly what makes this novel a must read. 

More Books Exploring Countries & Cultures:

Globetrotting with Books: The Series & Link Up Dominican Republic |   Bulgaria  |  Pakistan  | Turkey  |  Iran  |  
 North Korea |  Indonesia |   Colombia |Full List (+Linky) 

{Disclaimer: Globetrotting Mom is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to}

This post is shared at these link ups 

Until later! Stay in touch!



  1. I do love reading about different cultures X +bigpinklink

  2. Sounds like quite a challenging but fascinating and riveting read. Thanks for sharing with #fartglitter Swapna x

  3. Wow, sounds very interesting. His writing is so vivid and provocative. Thanks for sharing with #bigpinklink

    1. Provocative indeed! Thank you for stopping by:)

  4. Truly I think that this would be a very interesting read. If Caillou and Peppa the Pig ever stop eating my brain I might get a change to pick it up and read it someday.


  5. This looks like an intelligent read, but perhaps for someone who has a bit of time to themselves to really submerge their thoughts. Thank you for linking up to the #DreamTeam

  6. I find I can't handle terribly sad books right now, and I'm never one for sex scenes, so I'll probably skip this one, but thanks for sharing this post at Booknificent Thursday on!

    1. Even I'm pretty feddup of sex scenes, in both books and tv- why are they so graphic? Why has the romance and intimacy vanished?!!
      Thanks Tina :)