So, Anthony Veasna. “Afterparties: Stories”, Ecco, 2021.
Anthony Veasna So’s “Afterparties” is story collection about Cambodian-American life that is immersive and comic, yet unsparing, offering profound insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communities
The stories move between the absurd and the tenderhearted and are filled with humor and emotional depth, giving us a portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees find radical new paths for themselves in California, they also carry the weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and have to deal with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family.
We meet a high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner who tries to relive his past days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers go to a wedding afterparty and compose a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair begins between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher who is obsessed with Moby Dick. A nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.
The stories show great talent. So is bold and confident and his writing is witty, smart, and poetic. He knows how to tell a story and even though all the stories center on Cambodian Americans, each is about a varied and rich range of lives. Each reveals something different and unique. We read of characters whose families are survivors of a genocide and So shows us their struggles and how they endure and overcome. We see how each generation carries the suffering as a legacy that informs those touched by it.
We also see So’s affirmation and love of the Cambodian American community. We learn how a location affects a people and how a world can be created out of nothing but will and imagination.
Veasna So died in December 2020, prior to publication, at age 28 so he did not see the publication of his book that introduces us to him and his wonderful storytelling ability. He was able to handle plot action and wrenching pathos in beautiful prose and in an unforgettable new voice that is both poetic and laugh-out-loud funny.