Published by HarperCollins on August 3, 2021
Genres: Asian American, Fiction, Literary, LGBTQ, Short Stories
Hey, you! Stop reading this and go add Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So to the top of your TBR…Welcome back! This short story collection is perfection. These nine stories center on Cambodian American characters living in California. Many of these stories feature queer characters, which was my main motivation to read it. I learned a lot about Cambodian history and culture and was blown away by So’s writing talent. So has mastered bringing out a range of emotions in his readers. A few times, while reading a single page, I found myself laughing and then suddenly heartbroken.
The stories feature Cambodian Americans that are the children of refugees. One story focuses on two daughters and their mom running a doughnut shop. Each night a mysterious man visits, only to buy an apple fritter and sit in silence, leaving the pastry uneaten. Another story features a down on his luck high school badminton coach and struggling grocery store owner trying to get a much-needed win by beating his star player. The story that inspired the collection’s title takes place at a drunken wedding afterparty where two brothers try to expose their dubious uncle for neglecting to gift money to the bride and groom. In my favorite story, The Shop, a gay son works at his dad’s car shop after failing to find a job after college.
So does a great job of creating a cohesive collection with many overlapping themes. The most prominent commonality I noticed was every character had inherited trauma from their parents. From 1975 to 1979 between 1.5 and 2 million Cambodians were killed in a genocide under the communist leadership. The number of people killed equaled about a quarter of Cambodia’s population. The characters in So’s stories are the children of the refugees that escaped to America to avoid losing their lives. Even though the children were not present at the genocide their lives are heavily impacted by the events. Another part of Cambodian culture that is featured in the stories Maly, Maly, Maly and Somaly, Serey Somaly is the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. The queer characters in this collection have the added pressure of seeking acceptance from their families. The Shop was my favorite story, not just because the main character is gay, but So perfectly captured the loss of direction some young adults experience after college. All of So’s characters are flawed. I found some, especially the main character in Human Development (what a prick)to be highly unlikeable. But these unlikeable characters felt authentically human, so the stories were still a pleasure to read.
Unfortunately, I am going to end this review on a sad note. Anthony Veasna So tragically passed away at the age of 28, due to an accidental drug overdose. The literary community has lost a great talent too soon. While it is sad that So will not get a chance to share more beautifully written stories with the world, I am comforted that his voice will live on through this magnificent short story collection. Do your self a favor and read Afterparties.