Afterparties is a collection of nine short stories that offer exclusive depth and unheard perspectives on Cambodian American milieu in the Central Valley of California.
Layered with emotional tenderness and characters instilled with grit, these stories are filled with contrasting optimism and farfetched humor. This book is the sole, posthumous debut written by Anthony Veasna So.
Earlier in life, he was a graduate of Stanford University and Syracruse University. His writing appeared in the New Yorker, n+1, Granta, and ZYZZYVA. This work personally reflects the author’s intersectional dynamic as a queer Cambodian from Stockton, California.
The book embraces the complexity of sexuality and sets the reset button for queer fiction. So does not miss a beat when it comes to portraying modern queer intimacy and culture as a person of color.
A queer man spends his last moments in Central Valley with a local girl before leaving for college, and both partake in more or less mundane activities with family and the neighborhood, only to reflect that he is utterly useless as a gay man in the dusty, rural land where he came from (“Maly, Maly, Maly.”)
A college graduate who is not able to find a job, works at his failing family-operated auto shop that relies on good karma and blessings from local monks to go by, is not able to please his parents as a gay man who refuses to fulfill the dutiful role in finding a wife (“The Shop.”)
Cambodian American men can find an outlet or escape to their dull life in poverty through spirituality by becoming monks, or at least that is up for question as the concept of manhood and religion is challenged through a queer lens (“The Monks.”)
A gay and accomplished Cambodian 20-something year-old finds himself in San Francisco, excited with the burden of the task to share his knowledge to the younger, often privileged groups as a new established teacher in the area (“Human Development.”)
The Cambodian community in Central Valley has a strong prevalence throughout Afterparties. The stories of the community shed a closer look into identity, culture, and relationships.
Another story is about a tight-knit community fixated on each other as if gossip were a legitimate news source and is focused on a jaded supermarket worker, ex-badminton star meeting a young badminton student who riles things up in the community (“Superking Son Scores Again.”)
A huge Cambodian wedding celebration would not be if it weren’t for the entire immigrant community of Khmer Rouge survivors and the community they made in Central Valley (“We Would’ve Been Princes!”) There is a deep connection shared beyond family that encompasses an entire community. Immigrant sacrifice, intergenerational trauma, and Khmer Rouge genocide are reoccurring topics, in turn all is justified to use as excuses in regular conversations as well as Buddhism, reincarnation, and spirituality. These are all common in speech within a Cambodian American household and this book does not shy away from revealing that fatalism and realism.
A nurse describes how her family believes that she is a reincarnation of a past family member and how she has nightmares stemming from her past self and has to live with the restlessness that comes with it (“Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly.”)
A sense for survival is prevalent throughout Afterparties, whether it is weathering through poverty in the dust, pollen, and smog filled Central Valley or through biting memories of Pol Pot’s regime.
The very first story unravels a complex sense of cultural identity as it focuses in on a single mother running a donut shop that is weary of Khmer Rouge sympathizers and criminals while her two young daughters bumble between school and the shop until one day a wayward man frequents their establishment, eventually shifting their entire perspective and delicate perseverance (“Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts.”)
A survivor of the Khmer Rouge experienced the 1989 school shooting at Cleveland Elementary in Stockton, California in which she is able to live and retell these two survival stories (“Generational Differences.”)
Afterparties is relevant to American contemporary fiction. This is an intersectional piece covering areas in queer identity, immigrant complexity, and overall has a stamp for Generation X approval. It’s a niche and one-of-a-kind example of authentic Cambodian American life and strife in California in post-Khmer Rouge genocide.
The stories are soft, buttery tenderness that is cut blunt without any missing details by a sharp knife and Anthony Veasna So provides the fleshy, immortal bread for an underrepresented community of Cambodian Americans in mainstream fiction where their stories will live forever. Through these stories, Anthony Veasna So’s impactful tribute to American literary history will also live onwards.