Generations of Cambodian immigrants and their children bring their heritage and culture to America’s melting pot in Afterparties, a bold and incisive collection of short stories by the late writer Anthony Veasna So.
There’s a mesmerizing quality to these nine beautifully brash, interconnected stories filled with feisty, flawed characters living in central California. Each tale touches on themes of history, family, sexuality and identity, topics that are inextricably tied to all cultures.
In “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts,” Sothy is the Cambodian owner of a donut store, which she’s named Chuck’s because she thought the American-sounding name would attract customers. She is haunted by memories of the concentration camps she survived during the Cambodian genocide by the Khmer Rouge. However, a strange new source of dread appears in the form of a stranger who bears an unusual resemblance to Sothy’s ex-husband. As Sothy and her two American-born teenage daughters wonder about this stranger, they also come to a new understanding of their own complex identities as Cambodian Americans.
In several stories, So handles sexuality and religion unabashedly to illuminate the paradoxes of life. In “Maly, Maly, Maly,” teen narrator Ves reflects on his and his cousin Maly’s explicit sexual adventures amid preparations for the celebration of Maly’s dead mother’s reincarnation. And in “The Monks,” Rithy, who appears as Maly’s boy toy in “Maly, Maly, Maly,” is confined to a temple for a week to ensure his father’s smooth transition into the afterlife, making Rithy’s loyal duty to his unworthy father sound more like he is doing time.
So died in December 2020, leaving behind this collection as an important legacy that challenges stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans. Respecting the challenges of history while simultaneously giving voice to generations, these refreshingly unsterilized stories transcend race, culture and time.
Insightful and energetic, Afterparties’ tales about the complex communion of history and identity will intrigue fans of Chang-rae Lee’s My Year Abroad and Souvankham Thammavongsa’s How to Pronounce Knife.