Afterparties: Stories

by Anthony Veasna So

Hardcover, 2021

Call number




Ecco (2021), 272 pages


A Roxane Gay's Audacious Book Club Pick!Named a Best Book of Summer by: Wall Street Journal * Thrillist * Vogue * Lit Hub * Refinery29 * New York Observer * The Daily Beast * Time * BuzzFeed * Entertainment Weekly A vibrant story collection about Cambodian-American life--immersive and comic, yet unsparing--that offers profound insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communitiesSeamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterparties offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family. A high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner tries to relive his glory days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers attend a wedding afterparty and hatch a plan to expose their shady uncle's snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair sparks between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a "safe space" app and a disillusioned young teacher obsessed with Moby-Dick. And in the sweeping final story, a nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter. The stories in Afterparties, "powered by So's skill with the telling detail, are like beams of wry, affectionate light, falling from different directions on a complicated, struggling, beloved American community" (George Saunders)… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member claytonhowl
Thanks to NetGalley and Ecco for an advance copy of this book. (I loved it so much I've ordered the hardcover to keep!)

So's voice is so fresh and so specific. It was enthralling to spend these pages with the children of Cambodian refugees in Stockton, CA. The whole collection crackles -- what can't
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So do?? A book of perfectly-executed short stories, a master class in the form. He winds these stories up so perfectly, it adds a whole meta level of enjoyment; it was fun to step back every few pages to admire how expertly the stories are constructed, how effortlessly he sets up meaning and consequences for his characters.

Also, several LGBTQ+ characters, (maybe all gay men, now that I think about it?), so much more interesting and nuanced than you often find. If you like short stories or stories about complex cultural identities, you should spend some time with this standout collection.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“When I tried articulating my feelings about home, my mind inevitably returned to these songs, the way the incomprehensible intertwined with what made me feel so comfortable. I’d lived with misunderstanding for so long, I’d stopped even viewing it as bad. It was just there, embedded in
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everything I loved.”

“Here is the part that seems like a revelation until it’s forgotten as life is lived, because nothing’s special about an adulthood spent in the asshole of California, which some government official deemed worthy of a bunch of PTSD’d out refugees, farting out dreams like it’s success intolerant. “

These beautiful set of stories take place around Stockton, California and it focuses on the Cambodian immigrant experience. The Khmer Rouge genocide still hangs over this community and it completely shades their lives, even decades later. These tales also looks at the queer experience, living in this environment. The author was in his 20s, when he wrote this collection and it is so impressive how deft and deeply intelligent his writing was. Sadly, he died at 28 of an over-dose, before this book was published. We were definitely robbed of an emerging talent.
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LibraryThing member icolford
This frenetic collection of short fiction by Cambodian-American author Anthony Veasna So is an impassioned testament to human survival and the struggle to heal and rebuild in the aftermath of horrific events. So’s characters are the sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, of Cambodian
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migrants who came to America, fleeing the murderous Khmer Rouge regime and the genocide that killed millions. Family and community loom large in these pages—the legacy of endurance being passed from one generation to the next. But almost as important as family connections are issues of racial and personal identity. Many of So’s narrators are queer young men looking to meld or reconcile their queer individuality with their Cambodian heritage. Mostly though, So’s characters, like all of us, are people who simply want to get on with things: move their lives forward and overcome the obstacles that circumstance places in their way. “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts” tells the story of single mother Sothy, who owns and operates Chuck’s Donuts (“she’s never met a Chuck in her life; she simply thought the name was American enough to draw customers.”), and her two daughters and their tense encounter with a mysterious repeat customer who habitually arrives in the middle of the night, orders a fritter, but never eats it as he keeps watch out the window. “We Would’ve Been Princes!”, set at a chaotic afterparty following a wedding, describes the efforts of brothers Marlon and Bond to determine if their rich uncle has given the traditional cash gift to the bride and groom. And, most poignantly, “Generational Differences” addresses the issue of traumatic memory head-on: a Cambodian woman who was a teacher in Stockton, California in 1989 recounts to her son her experience as a survivor of a racially motivated school shooting. But her memory of this event is inevitably linked to earlier memories, of the genocide and of her brother’s suicide. “I don’t need you to recall the details of those tragedies that were dropped into my world,” she says near the end, concluding that, as survivors, all they can do is keep living. Unfortunately for readers, So himself did not survive, having died of a drug overdose in late 2020 at the age of 28. The loss of a unique voice and the premature end to what might have been a brilliant career endows these pulsating stories with great urgency and leave us wondering what might have been. In the meantime, we can relish Anthony Veasna So’s legacy: his depiction of a haunted community, one that, though resilient, vibrant and thriving, will always struggle to step out from under the shadow of its brutalized past.
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LibraryThing member SandyAMcPherson
Cambodian immigrant short stories, related from the American-born children's point of view; rather sad and often desperately poignant related to the difficult integration into a white North American society. The first story in the book was my favourite and I least liked the one about Maly and Ves,
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because it was such a depressing view of how their lived reality truly was.

Anthony Veasna So was such a promising writer but died at the age of 28 (drug overdose). As a young, queer Cambodian American writer, So wrote about the big questions of his ethnic identity, Khmer: How do you live in the aftermath of the Cambodian Genocide? How do you bridge the gap between a generation fine with just surviving and one that wants more? What does it even mean to be Khmer? (Quoting NPR's posthumous review). I highly recommend this book for insights into the immigrant's lives ~ the ones who escaped Cambodia.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
For me, the most striking thing about these stories from Anthony Veasna So (sadly lost to an overdose prior to this book's publication) a first gen Cambodian American, is the ways in which they highlight how living through horror finds its first level of relief through humor. So tells the stories
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of the generation of refugees, his grandparents and parents and their contemporaries, who escaped Cambodian genocide of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and of their children. My parents and their contemporaries were the children of parents who escaped Lenin's mass extermination of Jews in the Soviet Union and Hitler's Shoah in Germany, scarred survivors. For my grandparents generation, and So's parents, the only two options for going forward seem to be relentless jocularity or the walking nightmare of PTSD. (I had grandparents who took both paths.) It was this dynamic that lead to the 50's-80's Jewish domination of comedy. Jews owned humor, from Shecky Greene to Milton Berle, Henny Youngman to Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers to Don Rickles, and on and on. Mid-century Jews laughed so they would not cry. That same humor and those same PTSD soaked wraiths show up in Afterparties. They just look a little different than my grandparents, and they are populating parts of California in which no one else wants to live rather than parts of New York where no one else wants to live, but they share a lot. The children of this generation who escaped genocide are dutiful if not always loving offspring pushed to become professionals and insulate themselves with money, hanging on to their heritage mostly through food. This next generation, the children of the damned, are flashy and endlessly acquisitive in ways that make their Americanized children cringe. (I am that generation for the Jews and So is that gen for the Cambos.) I have no grand point, just that maybe this is what follows a holocaust necessarily. Those who avoid walking around like empty shells, seeing Cossacks or Khmer Rouge soldiers hiding in suburban American backyards, those people embrace fake it 'til you make it humor. Its a lot to chew on.

As for So's stories themselves, they are heartbreaking and funny and illuminating and show us so many people we want to know. Some of the stories are better than others, but I found all worth my time and attention. So's death is tragic in its own right, but the tragedy is compounded by the clear promise of his work -- I expect he would have written some spectacular stuff had he lived.

My favorite story was "The Shop" where we see connection to community and innate kindness destroy a man before his son's eyes. The story also features a closeted lover, some surprising monks, and a hilarious and heartbreaking doctor's wife who might have been my favorite character in the book. That story was, in my estimation, as close to perfect as it could be. "We Would've Been Princes" set at a huge family wedding and at the afterparty for the younger generation, came very close. It sharply defines the competing forces of being an American and a Cambodian. The stories I felt weakest were those So wrote from a woman's perspective. "Three Women of Chuck's Donuts" featured two smart and resourceful young girls and their exhausted but resolute mother, and though I found the older daughter's character compelling, I thought her grit and her mother's was overshadowed by the specter of the danger men bring with them a constant. The other "Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly" is sent in a nursing home and touched on the end of life, the ghosts of the past, and of the women charged with shepherding those at the end of their lives through the confusion of dementia and the press of memories more horrible than most of us can imagine. Again, the POV character, Serey, was really interesting but then fell off into this void, her bravery and compassion overshadowed by the demands of the old world and other external limitations. Those two stories were stripped of the honest humor and pathos of the other stories and they left little room to see the flashes of freedom and its rewards, of opportunities ahead (to succeed and to crash and burn), we see elsewhere. Both were still good, but less magical that the rest.

One note, many of So's characters are gay and horny, and the sex here is graphic and not remotely romanticized. You will read about bodies stuck together with cum, chafed and stretched rectums and jaws that seize up from overuse. If that is a problem for you that is between you and yourself (I may be judging you, but you do you) and you will want to steer clear. There is a line in one story about a guy wanting to bottom but not with a white guy because he doesn't want his rectum colonized by a "white predator." That made me laugh out loud sitting alone on a park bench, and it was totally worth looking crazy. If you steer clear you will miss moments like that.

Additional note. I started out listening to this on audio and hated the reader. Most of the recitation was flat and over-enunciated, and when the reader did try to infuse some energy into certain parts his tone and choices of what to emphasize often did not fit the prose. I traded the audio for the Kindle version and was happy I did so.
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LibraryThing member eas7788
I loved this book so much. Each story is great, and together as a collection they inform each other. Characters are vivid, structure and plot are varied/surprising/satisfying/complex. There is a feeling that writer is holding nothing back. I got such a clear sense of the community he writes about.
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Autobiography/biography clearly is the start but is by no means the end/the limit of each story. There is a whole world here. I will forever be sad that this all of his I will get to read but so thankful for what he has created here.
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
I’m afraid that I’m a bit of a book review outlier when it comes to this collection of short stories that has been showered with critical praise. Unfortunately, “Afterparties” just didn’t resonate with me. I finished it only a few weeks ago and I can only vaguely recall most of the
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storylines. But I was impressed with the late author’s ability to create realistic characters and tackle important societal issues.
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LibraryThing member quondame
Children of the displaced survivors of multiple horrors growing in a barren landscape that doesn't support their parents' culture narrate hours or weeks of their lives over 3 decades during which the roots they seem to place are sparse and don't sustain. The voice is powerful and clear though the
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lives are anything but.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
I don’t know what to say about this book that has gotten quite a bit of press. And I understand why, as it’s well written and thoughtful. Anthony Veasna So writes what seem to be autobiographical short stories of his extended families life as Cambodian (Khmer) immigrants in California.
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Immigrants who survived Pol Pot. He captures this life and the difficulties to assimilate into America in detail. We get to understand what goes on in the mind of these immigrants—or should I call them refugees?

As terrible events continue to happen around the world these stories continue to need to be told.

Anthony Veasna So died from a drug overdose before this book was published. In a way it’s just one more sad story of the hard life he and his fellow Cambodians endured both in Cambodia and in the United States.

This book is worth a read.
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LibraryThing member rmarcin
This was not the book for me. It is a series of essays written from the perspective of a Cambodian American. It is a lot of sex and drugs and teen angst. I am sure this appeals to someone, but I am not in that camp.
LibraryThing member BibliophageOnCoffee
We definitely lost a talented writer way too soon.


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