All This Belongs to Me depicts the trials and tribulations of four generations of women, members of a herdsman family near the Mongolian Red Rocks. The core of the book is the story of Dzaja; she tells the story of her life, but also touches on the history of her parents, her grandmother and her other relatives. It starts off with her childhood in the dwelling (a tent) of her parents in the Gobi desert as she describes daily life: doing the odd jobs as part of the life of a herdsman, taking care of her younger sister, riding on horseback with her other sisters and with her father Tüleg, assisting in looking after the sheep and so on. The eventual death of grandmother Dolgorma is a critical development. On this important occasion Father Tüleg tells his daughters about the pure Mongolian roots of their grandmother and ask the oldest daughter Magi to name her first daughter also Dolgorma, after her grandmother. Magi is the favourite daughter of father Tüleg, not just because she is good looking, but also because – as becomes apparent later on in the book – Dzaja and the third daughter Nara are not his own children. Dzaja is born from a passionate relation between her mother Alta and a Chinese man called Mergen. Nara is the daughter of a Russian salesman in sardines who has passed by their dwelling several times. Therefore both girls are considered by the real Mongols as so-called ‘erliets': despicable foreigners. The youngest daughter Ojuna on the other hand, is again a real daughter of father Tüleg. Dzaja and Nara are for the first time confronted with their dubious background when they start attending school, where they stay internally because of the great distance to their home. They only return home during holidays.
The story takes a turn when the oldest daughter Magi has a fatal accident at the age of seventeen during the traditional horserace. Dzaja, who is now more or less grown up, is allowed to stay with her aunt Sjartsetseg (the younger sister of mother Alta) in the big city of Ulan Bator. This aunt will play an important role in the life of Dzaja, and later also in the life of Nara. The aunt helps Dzaja out in finding a job for her in the kitchen of a lower class eating house and she herself apparently works in a meat factory, but is in fact running a brothel, as it turns out later on in the book. Things are complicated for Dzaja by the fact that her aunt Sjartsetseg is living with the Chinese man Mergen, the father of Dzaja, which is something that Dzaja at the time is still unaware of. Mergen is also the one who gets Dzaja drunk at one night and rapes her. As a result Dzaja is sent away by her aunt and her boyfriend, Bjamchu, whom she was acquainted with at her job in the kitchen, ends their relationship. An unsettling period begins and Dzaja wanders around the dark places of the city, gets involved with a Russian man and tries to get home to her parents. Finally she ends up with her sister Nara working in the brothel of her aunt Sjartsetseg. She becomes pregnant and has a daughter, whom she names after her grandmother Dolgorma. When this second Dolgorma becomes a teenager, she finds out in what fashion her mother makes her money and decides to run away. At this point the account of Dzaja ends and is continued with the account of her daughter Dolgorma. After that there are following the accounts, stories, of the mother Alta, and of the sisters Ojuna and Nara. The story comes full circle as the book ends with a chapter about Dzaja, who returns to the dwelling of her late parents. Ojuna and her husband are now in charge of the dwelling and take care of the herd.
“All This Belongs to Me is an acutely observed account — compelling despite its grimness — of the lives of its semi-nomadic subjects.”
— Madeline Clements, The Times Literary Supplement
“The verbal talent of the twenty-three year old Petra Hůlová is in some parts of her debut, the novel All This Belongs to Me, so apparent and enchanting, it is more than great talent — it is an extraordinary gift.”
— Josef Chuchma, MF Dnes
“What magic is behind [Hůlová’s] books which makes them so easy and natural to read, as if in one breath? The main reason is people’s age-long desire for a story, for the strong support of tradition and the continuity of family lines. The desire for a Jungian collective consciousness, which is disappearing from the hurried life of western civilization in the shadows of forbidden pasts”
— Bára Gregorová, iLiteratura
Selected published translations (7)
Mijn grootmoeder Dutch
Les Montagnes rouges French
Czas czerwonych gór Polish
All This Belongs to Me English
Allt detta tillhör mig Swedish
Tutto questo mi appartiene Italian