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Afterparties

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Seamlessly 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 complex Seamlessly 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. With nuanced emotional precision, gritty humor, and compassionate insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communities, the stories in Afterparties deliver an explosive introduction to the work of Anthony Veasna So.


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Seamlessly 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 complex Seamlessly 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. With nuanced emotional precision, gritty humor, and compassionate insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communities, the stories in Afterparties deliver an explosive introduction to the work of Anthony Veasna So.

30 review for Afterparties

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    An outstanding short story collection and one of the finest books I’ve read on how generational trauma can shape and influence a diasporic community. These stories, about Cambodian immigrants and their first generation kids are exceptionally crafted, melancholy, disaffected, and very funny in parts. There is a sense of ennui that the author captures so well and there is also this beautiful sense of community however exasperating connection might feel to these varied characters , that binds each An outstanding short story collection and one of the finest books I’ve read on how generational trauma can shape and influence a diasporic community. These stories, about Cambodian immigrants and their first generation kids are exceptionally crafted, melancholy, disaffected, and very funny in parts. There is a sense of ennui that the author captures so well and there is also this beautiful sense of community however exasperating connection might feel to these varied characters , that binds each of the stories to one another.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    Much as I wish it weren't the case, I need to start this review this way: I spent part of my 2020 lockdown catching up on about six months' worth of New Yorker short stories, and one of my favorites was "Three Women of Chuck's Donuts." After I finished it, I came onto Goodreads and added Anthony Veasna So's upcoming collection, Afterparties, to my shelf. Then I forgot about it until early December 2020, when I suddenly started thinking about the story again and looked online for more information Much as I wish it weren't the case, I need to start this review this way: I spent part of my 2020 lockdown catching up on about six months' worth of New Yorker short stories, and one of my favorites was "Three Women of Chuck's Donuts." After I finished it, I came onto Goodreads and added Anthony Veasna So's upcoming collection, Afterparties, to my shelf. Then I forgot about it until early December 2020, when I suddenly started thinking about the story again and looked online for more information about this book and its author. It was then I learned that Anthony Veasna So had died suddenly only a few days earlier, at the age of 28. The thing is, this collection is great! It's laugh-out-loud funny, but every story is aiming for something bigger, every story has some aspect of the human condition it's exploring. A lot of it is related to being Cambodian American, having immigrant parents who had lived under the Khmer Rouge, living in a tight-knit community that's everything to you but trying to figure out how to live in it as young queer person, or how to leave it to pursue other dreams. The stories stand alone but also interconnect, so eventually you realize the character taking center stage in one was a minor player in a previous story, and vice versa. In this way, an entire fictional world is created. I enjoyed it so much, but every time I stopped to register the enjoyment I also registered anew that this was it. We're not going to be able to have other books by So; we're not going to be able to see him grow into an even better writer. This is it. It's impossible to separate my pleasure in this book from my knowledge that it's the only one we're going to get. As with all rare things, its rarity is part of what makes it precious. Afterparties isn't perfect. As with every story collection, there are a couple that probably could have been left out. And there's some graphic sex and a bit of scatological stuff, so if that bothers you, caveat emptor. The book has a bright, sometimes rambling style that appealed to me, but may not be for everyone. Even so, Anthony Veasna So is basically the very definition of a young writer to watch. Except, except... I'm somewhere between 4 and 5 stars and am rounding up because to do otherwise seems ridiculous, and I recommend everyone give this one a try. I received this ARC via NetGalley; thank you to the publisher.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Candi

    “We can’t let your history become lost in time…” Each year, I vow that I’m going to branch out in some way with my reading habits. Try a new genre. Sample a few new-to-me authors, a debut writer or two. Move outside my comfort zones and make myself squirm a bit with my reading choices. This year, I decided that I would make a more concerted effort to grab more contemporary pieces, perhaps shortly after their release dates. And it’s truly paid off! Either I’m very fortunate in my picks, or there “We can’t let your history become lost in time…” Each year, I vow that I’m going to branch out in some way with my reading habits. Try a new genre. Sample a few new-to-me authors, a debut writer or two. Move outside my comfort zones and make myself squirm a bit with my reading choices. This year, I decided that I would make a more concerted effort to grab more contemporary pieces, perhaps shortly after their release dates. And it’s truly paid off! Either I’m very fortunate in my picks, or there are a helluva lot of excellent new books and authors out there right now! I’d venture to say it’s a combination of the two that has resulted in me shouting out several times this year to Please Read This Book! "I know something about disorientation. I understand how it feels to live with a past that defies logic." When I came across the name Anthony Veasna So and the title Afterparties, I couldn’t resist – a debut, a cool title, and what promised to be a more diverse reading experience that would most likely teach me a little something. I read for entertainment, yes, but most importantly I read to expand my knowledge about people and the events that have shaped them. Anthony Veasna So is the son of Cambodian refugees and many of his stories center on a community of immigrants living in California, both the parents and grandparents who fled the genocide as well as the first generation Cambodian-American children. “Can the very act of enduring result in wounds that bleed into a person’s thoughts, distorting how that person experiences the world?” So handles with finesse the topics of race, identity, sexuality, addictions, haunting memories, traditions and religious beliefs, and relationships – both romantic and familial, especially those between the older and newer generations. The nightmare of the genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime does not overpower the story with despair, though its indelible effects are quite telling in this community. He rather brilliantly weaves humor throughout, and as a result, one is treated to a very compelling read that informs while not dragging the reader into a funk. The wish of the older generation to see their children and grandchildren succeed in this country is juxtaposed with the desire of the new generation to establish their own identities and forge their own paths, often a path quite different from what is expected of them. “Those poor parents, he imagined all of them thinking. Look at their disgraceful kids, tarnishing their parents’ reputations with drug addictions and frivolous artistic delusions. Why had those parents worked so hard for a future like this?” One thing of note is the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, something I was aware of but gained a bit more understanding of after reading this piece. While the older generation witnessed and escaped the horrors of the genocide, desiring nothing more than to establish a new, safe life for their children, the idea of a deceased relative inhabiting the body of a new family member seemed to me rather haunting. It clearly does to Anthony Veasna So as well. We see the younger characters grapple with this in some of these stories – they cannot fully escape the nightmare when ancestors are “allowed” to establish themselves over and over again in the succeeding generations. How to reconcile themselves to this? “Fuck everyone else, for burdening the two of us with all their baggage. Let’s go back to minding our own business, anything but this. Who cares about our family? What have they ever done but keep us alive only to make us feel like shit?” This is a collection of short stories, but they are tied together by certain characters appearing perhaps briefly in one story and then more prominently in another. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the focus is on the people of this Cambodian-American community. Other than the neighborhood itself, the setting is not central to the story. There are a number of sexually graphic scenes which, given the age and openness of the author and his characters, simply added to the authenticity. No need to take a cold shower after reading, though if any of the stickiness rubs off indirectly, you may want to run the faucet anyway. Partway through this collection, I was rather excited about having “discovered” a bright young writer I could follow. I decided to look him up, only to find that he passed away at the end of 2020. What a huge loss! A ton of promise in his writing that we won’t have the pleasure to read, with the exception of a compilation of part of a novel he started, along with some other pieces he’d written prior to his sudden death. I watched a short YouTube clip of Anthony Veasna So, and he seemed just as I imagined him to be after finishing Afterparties – down-to-earth, intelligent, and yes, funny! “They imagined a future severed from their past mistakes, the history they inherited, a world in which—with no questions asked, no hesitation felt—they completed the simple actions they thought, discussed, and dreamed.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Real Rating: 4.5* of five, rounded up out of sheer misery that this is all we're going to get of the man's wonderful work A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK FOR 2021! KINDLE DEAL TODAY! JUST $2.99!! I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU. My Review: The death by accidental overdose, at age 28, of Author Anthony Veasna So means this collection will have to serve us for a long time. The loss, I know you're unsurprised to hear me say, is going to alter our national literary conversatio Real Rating: 4.5* of five, rounded up out of sheer misery that this is all we're going to get of the man's wonderful work A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK FOR 2021! KINDLE DEAL TODAY! JUST $2.99!! I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU. My Review: The death by accidental overdose, at age 28, of Author Anthony Veasna So means this collection will have to serve us for a long time. The loss, I know you're unsurprised to hear me say, is going to alter our national literary conversation. Author So wrote these stories, and a handful of essays in prestigious venues like n+1 Magazine, all seemingly intent on exploring something I think he was beautifully placed...first-generation American, talented beyond the ordinary, and further outsidered by his queerness...and perfectly suited by temperament to render his own: Dreaming your way into a world too brutal to survive. These stories are satisfying in many ways, and not least among them is the author's simple, direct, conversational style. Try this: read any first paragraph out loud. Don't act, speak; they are all beautifully built for the rhythms of twenty-first century American speech. And that is why I will mourn Author So's early exit. I think we would've found many corners to turn and potholes to fill if he still walked among us. That makes me feel sad. As is reasonable and customary at this blog, the Bryce Method of short, separate impressions and distinct individual ratings for the stories will organize my thoughts and feelings while hopefully allowing you to reach your own conclusions. As there are so many thoughts, you'll need to look at them here: https://tinyurl.com/3b7vnnj9 But I'll be amazed and disappointed if you don't laugh out loud a lot.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Loved this short story collection’s intimate examination of Cambodian Americans living in California. I felt like Anthony Veasna So wrote with great authenticity about how intergenerational trauma affects Cambodian Americans. He shows how additional forces such as capitalism and classism, as well as masculinity and toxic masculinity, draw boundaries around some of his characters’ ambitions and hopes, especially his male characters. At the same time, So portrays the tight-knit connection, support Loved this short story collection’s intimate examination of Cambodian Americans living in California. I felt like Anthony Veasna So wrote with great authenticity about how intergenerational trauma affects Cambodian Americans. He shows how additional forces such as capitalism and classism, as well as masculinity and toxic masculinity, draw boundaries around some of his characters’ ambitions and hopes, especially his male characters. At the same time, So portrays the tight-knit connection, support, and collective understanding that Cambodian Americans utilize to uplift one another. Even though they may express love in imperfect ways, their desire to see and to be seen by one another shines through. Roxane Gay used the word “disaffected” in her review of this book which resonated with me. While I think Afterparties acts as a valuable contribution to the literary world, I felt that So’s writing style kept me at a distance from his characters. I cared about their experiences and their struggles against oppression, though I found So’s prose “cool” in a slightly disaffected/indifferent way. Shout out to the story “Human Development” for featuring a Southeast Asian man who explicitly says he does not want his rectum colonized by a white gay! I loved that part. Also appreciated the story for featuring a hot threesome between three queer Southeast Asian men – where else have you seen that in fiction? Unfortunately I found the main character a bit unsufferable/unself-aware. Anyway, Anthony Veasna So passed away too soon. I would have loved to see how his writing developed after this collection.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    So this is it, eh? This is all you’re going to give us? Well, shit. I suppose I should be thankful I get anything at all, but truth be told I’m more pissed than anything. Why some midwestern dad be pissed at an up-and-coming writer seems misguided, if not silly, especially given we’ve never met. But that’s entirely my point: we never will. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re saying: “we probably never would have anyway.” But that’s where you’re wrong, my dude. Because every piece you had written acted So this is it, eh? This is all you’re going to give us? Well, shit. I suppose I should be thankful I get anything at all, but truth be told I’m more pissed than anything. Why some midwestern dad be pissed at an up-and-coming writer seems misguided, if not silly, especially given we’ve never met. But that’s entirely my point: we never will. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re saying: “we probably never would have anyway.” But that’s where you’re wrong, my dude. Because every piece you had written acted as an introduction; it was if I had met you several times over, in several different forms yet clearly sourced from the same soul – your soul. And boy did you have a lot of it. Soul, that is. Maybe you still do, wherever you are. In fact, I’d bet my bottom dollar on it, on you, on your talent. It bears mentioning I’m hardly a betting man. But I know a sure thing when I see it – or in your case, read it – and you had the goods, goods that seemed spawn out of an infinite amount of soul. So pardon me for being pissed that Afterparties is likely to be the only extension of that soul any of us will ever get to experience. I’ve read about your plans for it, that the collection was merely your gateway to bigger and better things, that several follow-ups were already in the works, further wings of your brilliance being spread until stretched beyond capacity, until they hurt. That’s not to say Afterparties didn’t hurt, too. And not because it will stand as your singular work of art, but for the hurt it both illustrated and evoked. It was your hurt, in concert with the hurt of your people, that summoned hurt of my own; a wholly different hurt but hurt all the same. Only the very best writers can orchestrate such majesty. With Afterparties, you were a maestro. You made me feel, all the while baring your own feelings, your own worldviews, your own soul. I didn’t know you from Adam yet found myself caring so so much about you – and that was maybe halfway through Afterparties. And to be fair it wasn’t just you with which I had become so emotionally invested. It was the mother and her daughters who ran the all-night donut shop (“Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts”). It was the badminton-playing high schoolers being “coached” by a slacker/savant “artist lost in the politics of normal, assimilated life” (“Superking Son Scores Again”). It was your spitfire cousin, Maly (“Maly, Maly, Maly” and “Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly”), and her lovably lunkheaded boyfriend, Rithy (“The Monks”). Your mom, a survivor amongst survivors (“Generational Differences”). Your people. Your community. Your “Cambos.” Full discosure: I knew very little of your heritage before reading Afterparties. Better still, what knowledge I did have had come by way of a freshman integrated arts and humanities course requirement, whereupon my roommates and I scoured every video rental store in the greater Lansing area to find a copy of The Killing Fields. Prior to then my white suburban education, one that had been often cited as the state’s best, had failed to educate me on Cambodia, on Pol Pot, on genocide, on Khmer people as a whole. It’s not as if the movie had suddenly made me some expert on your heritage, nor will have reading your homage to it. But what I was and continue to be familiar with is that feeling of being an outsider experiencing a certain camaraderie that comes with being one. With Afterparties, such an evocation feels both familiar and familial, a balancing act that seems only possible if coming straight from the heart. And while I will never have the chance to know you, I can say for certain your heart was as big as an ocean. How else could you have written this, your achingly beautiful love letter to your achingly beautiful people? I suppose that’s what makes this so sad; that big, beautiful heart of yours no longer beats. But on the flip side it thumps through the heart of each page, as if reincarnating you vis a vis your “Cambos.” It’s fitting, really, as if you’d either predicted your fate or at the very least fool-proofed it. It wouldn’t surprise me either way. Any while very little surprises me anymore, you managed to – and my expectations were already high! Well, guess what? You exceeded them all the while breaking my heart. And pissing me off. Because I know this is all you’re gonna give us. I’m guess I’m just gonna have to accept it. And make it a point to read Afterparties a couple hundred more times.

  7. 5 out of 5

    luce

    | | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | | Candid and humorously absurd Afterparties is a collection of short stories that focuses on the experiences of Cambodian-Americans in California. In spite of the occasional Shameless-like scenario, these stories remain grounded in realism, almost to the point of reading like a slice of life. Vo’s stories can also be read as frank vignettes capturing the everyday lives of his characters. Nothing truly of note happens in his narratives, yet, the, often funny, interact | | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | | Candid and humorously absurd Afterparties is a collection of short stories that focuses on the experiences of Cambodian-Americans in California. In spite of the occasional Shameless-like scenario, these stories remain grounded in realism, almost to the point of reading like a slice of life. Vo’s stories can also be read as frank vignettes capturing the everyday lives of his characters. Nothing truly of note happens in his narratives, yet, the, often funny, interactions between his various characters combined with his irreverent social commentary (on race, sexuality, immigration, america) are bound to keep readers turning pages. Much about Vo’s tone and scenarios brought to mind Bryan Washington. Like Washington, Vo presents his readers with an unfiltered portrayals of America, queer culture, and millennials, and many of these stories revolve around characters who like to party or are leading rather directionless lives. All of the stories also hone in on generational differences, specifically between young Cambodian-Americans and their parents and grandparents. In addition to racism and homophobia, many of Vo’s characters feel burdened by the pressure to succeed in life or to lead a certain type of lifestyle and by their relatives’ experiences and memories of the Khmer Rouge genocide. While I recognise that this collection has many good qualities, I didn’t exactly love any of these stories. At times the banter between the younger characters struck me as slightly exaggerated and the humor at times struck me as being of the armpit-fart variety (ie not to my taste). Still, I was saddened to learn that the author has passed away and that this will be likely his only release. If this collection is on your radar I encourage you to read more positive reviews, such as the one penned by Sarah. ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    There have been notable collections focussing on the challenges faced by second or third generation immigrants, living under the pressure to succeed in a world their forebears have struggled to provide for them. Here we have such a community, in this case from Cambodia, in Stockton, "... a dusty California free of ambition or beaches." It is particularly tragic that the author, seemingly a poster child for success of overcoming generational trauma, has died before publication. This lends particu There have been notable collections focussing on the challenges faced by second or third generation immigrants, living under the pressure to succeed in a world their forebears have struggled to provide for them. Here we have such a community, in this case from Cambodia, in Stockton, "... a dusty California free of ambition or beaches." It is particularly tragic that the author, seemingly a poster child for success of overcoming generational trauma, has died before publication. This lends particular poignance to the final story recounting his mother's experience as a teacher in 1989 when her school underwent a racist massacre. Although Anthony Veasna So didn't live to enjoy the expected positive reaction to his collection, he was able to see acceptance and recognition through the inclusion of his work in such publications as Granta, Zzzyva, and The New Yorker. He knew he had broken the fate of "... what Cambo men did ... fixed cars [as did his father], sold donuts [I had no idea], or got on welfare." At times hilarious, at times heartbreaking, at all times immersive. Thanks to ECCO for this chance to read this early.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    I’ve tried and failed to find adequate comparisons to Afterparties, Anthony Veasna So’s debut and presumably only short story collection. Perhaps oddly, I think of Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, his debut 1959 collection. Roth’s perhaps apocryphal remark that ”I am not a Jewish writer; I am a writer who is a Jew” equally applies to So: reducing So to “a Cambodian writer” or a “Cambodian-American writer” or “a gay writer” does a disservice to the depth, breadth, and universality of his stories. I’ve tried and failed to find adequate comparisons to Afterparties, Anthony Veasna So’s debut and presumably only short story collection. Perhaps oddly, I think of Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, his debut 1959 collection. Roth’s perhaps apocryphal remark that ”I am not a Jewish writer; I am a writer who is a Jew” equally applies to So: reducing So to “a Cambodian writer” or a “Cambodian-American writer” or “a gay writer” does a disservice to the depth, breadth, and universality of his stories. Afterparties fits within the small category of brilliant short story collections placed within but not bounded by self-contained American ethnic communities, in which the characters, emotions, and relationships transcend their communities into an ecumenical American-ness. So displays an huge emotional range in these nine stories, with only two mild disappointments. My favorites: Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts, destined to be a classic; Superking Son Scores Again; The Shop; and Generational Differences. Anthony Veasna So’s premature death is a gut punch. 4.5 stars

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ming

    I finished this book right after the new year and it has haunted me since (it's March 4, 2021 today). The last story in this collection refers to a visit by Michael Jackson to an elementary school after a school shooting there. It includes some philosophical takes on death and those soothed me a bit as I continued to think about what a marvel So is. I couldn’t help wondering what more he could have accomplished. But such thoughts must lead to an appreciation or recognition of what he did achieve; I finished this book right after the new year and it has haunted me since (it's March 4, 2021 today). The last story in this collection refers to a visit by Michael Jackson to an elementary school after a school shooting there. It includes some philosophical takes on death and those soothed me a bit as I continued to think about what a marvel So is. I couldn’t help wondering what more he could have accomplished. But such thoughts must lead to an appreciation or recognition of what he did achieve; and this book certainly demonstrates that. This book of short stories reflects the voice of a rare talent. He is bold and confident. The writing is witty, smart, and poetic. His storytelling is radiant, celebratory. And while all the stories center on Cambodian Americans, each showcases a varied and rich range of lives. Each reveals something different and unique. So has keen insights about the array of experiences his characters have had as refugees and survivors of a genocide. He deftly depicts their struggles, and how they endure and overcome. And we see how each generation carries the suffering, a legacy that morphs and informs those touched by it. But what shines clearly through is So’s affirmation and love of the Cambodian American community. This appreciation extends to Stockton, California which features prominently and serves as a key element, explaining how a location affects a people. In his Acknowledgements, So thanks his parents and notes how they created a world out of nothing but their will and imaginations. He, too, has beautifully done similarly in this collection. I especially liked “The Shop,” “Human Development,” “Generational Differences,” and “Somaly, Serey, Serey, Somaly.” And I gladly note that various Khmer words appear with only the context to inform or explain them; it conveys an intimacy, such as when a close friend confides in you and uses words and descriptors that are used at home. Thanks to Ecco Publishing and NetGalley for this advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. Several quotes: “Dad was one of those guys who smiled and laughed constantly, but never without a sad look in his eyes.” “I know I was supposed to find a legitimate job, but at this point in my life, dumb epiphanies about home seemed so precious, urgent, fleeting.” “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 everything I loved.” “…Paul strolled over from the food court, projecting that casual angst peculiar to guys who never left our hometown, who stayed committed to a dusty California free of ambition or beaches.” “Being handsome and pathetic was Marlon’s selling point. Mothers adored that poor fellow brimming with wasted possibility.” “Which, in fact—the logic’s so Cambodian it hurts: name you kids after the first movies you saw after immigrating, and bam! “…he felt the sensation he often experienced when visiting home, that his parents had conceived him to work on a conveyor belt of nonsensical family issues.” “The entire night he had yearned to ache into the warm nothingness. Hollow pangs of muscle memory throbbed in his thighs, his shoulders, the places where he had felt the most heat. Cravings pulsed through his whole body.” “…I saw the possibility of existing in a dynamic in which every pleasure received, every favor granted, every dick sucked, every bottom filled and every top gratified, could energize you to give back more than what you had in the first place. I saw clearly Ben’s ideal vision of the world, a way of being that could sustain communities, protect safe spaces, and ensure that political progress kept happening. I felt euphoric, high, blood rushing to my head. I felt unbearably hopeful.” “…I thought about Michael Jackson again, the absurdity of his photo jolting our day into being, how the more he had tried to change, to reinvent himself into something completely new, the more he seemed horrifically burdened by what he used to be.” “When you think about my history, I don’t need you to see everything at once. I don’t need you to recall the details of those tragedies that were dropped into my world. Honestly, you don’t even have to try. What is nuance in the face of all that we’ve experienced? But for me, your mother, just remember that, for better or worse, we can be described as survivors. Okay? Know that we’ve always kept on living. What else could we have done?”

  11. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Suite

    I’m totally in love. And totally sad. Veasna So had such an expressive and unique voice, a writer who was most certainly not a follower. I don’t know how to explain it, but these stories just felt so different from other contemporary short story collections in recent years. It’s totally its own thing. And that was refreshing. Crude, heartbreaking, maddening, comical, and inventive. Queer and bursting with so much life. A beautiful exploration of the Cambodian-American / Cambodian immigrant exper I’m totally in love. And totally sad. Veasna So had such an expressive and unique voice, a writer who was most certainly not a follower. I don’t know how to explain it, but these stories just felt so different from other contemporary short story collections in recent years. It’s totally its own thing. And that was refreshing. Crude, heartbreaking, maddening, comical, and inventive. Queer and bursting with so much life. A beautiful exploration of the Cambodian-American / Cambodian immigrant experience and the haunting presence of the genocide. My takeaway is bittersweet: I’ll cherish this collection, but it’s disheartening to know this is all we’ll ever get from this writer. Great body of work.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Every once in a while, I run into a writer who reminds me of writing classes. No, not MFA ones (too rich for my blood wallet) where "cookie-cutter stories" emerge, but the bromides we learned in any old creative writing course. Exhibit A first and foremost: Write what you know. (Check on that count with Veasna So, as these stories are well informed with Cambodian and gay cultural themes.) Exhibit B: Show, don't tell. Well... about that. First of all, I'm not "all in" on that rule. This writer prove Every once in a while, I run into a writer who reminds me of writing classes. No, not MFA ones (too rich for my blood wallet) where "cookie-cutter stories" emerge, but the bromides we learned in any old creative writing course. Exhibit A first and foremost: Write what you know. (Check on that count with Veasna So, as these stories are well informed with Cambodian and gay cultural themes.) Exhibit B: Show, don't tell. Well... about that. First of all, I'm not "all in" on that rule. This writer proves once again that many talented writers are just good at "telling" a story. The plot moves. The characterization gels -- chiefly through dialogue, secondarily through actions and thoughts. As for the "showing" part, rich with details, colors, imagery, it gets pretty skimpy here. Veasna So doesn't much care about smells, sounds, sights, tastes, and sensations of touch. Sure, they exist, it's just that he's too busy telling his story to become preoccupied. Some stories were stronger than others. The opener, probably the best, was a New Yorker story about a strange man who enters a Cambodian-American woman's donut shop each morning, orders a pastry he never eats, and stares out the window. The owner's young daughters are captivated by curiosity and wind up getting unexpected answers by story's end. Compelling, somewhat suspenseful, fun. Others varied in their strengths, but never did I feel like I wanted to totally skip a story. As Anthony Veasna So tragically died before this debut printed, we'll never know where he could have gone as a writer. For a debut author, I'd say his "telling" credentials are there. The guy can spin a story, use dialogue adeptly, weave in some humor. That said, you never feel awed by the language itself. That's a second talent. One the poor guy will never get the chance to further develop.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    4.5 rounded up It's truly impressive that this a debut - there's something so assured and natural about Anthony Veasna So's writing and distinctive about his method of storytelling. The first story (Three Women of Chuck's Donuts, which is available on The New Yorker website if you're curious) was my favourite and worth the price of entry alone, but the rest of the stories are strong too, and showcase a loosely connected cast of Cambodian, Khmer and Cambodian American characters, many hailing from 4.5 rounded up It's truly impressive that this a debut - there's something so assured and natural about Anthony Veasna So's writing and distinctive about his method of storytelling. The first story (Three Women of Chuck's Donuts, which is available on The New Yorker website if you're curious) was my favourite and worth the price of entry alone, but the rest of the stories are strong too, and showcase a loosely connected cast of Cambodian, Khmer and Cambodian American characters, many hailing from Stockton, California - like the author himself - and grappling with their identity and relationships, both family and personal. It seems like other elements are likely autobiographical too, but I think this just adds to the impact and authenticity of the stories. Veasna So's untimely death in December 2020, prior to publication, at age 28 has the potential to overshadow the publication of his debut (and as others have said, likely only) collection of stories. But conversely hopefully this will introduce the book to readers who it may have otherwise passed by. Either way, this is an excellent debut and one I'd highly recommend checking out. Thank you Netgalley and Atlantic Books for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I did not love this as much as I thought I would. Everybody adores these stories, so do take my opinion with a grain of salt. While there were some really interesting sentences and the observations were really sharp, overall the structure of the stories didn't ever seem to work for me and with short stories, structure is really what makes a story work for me. My favourite was the first story, with its interesting sibling relationship at its core. I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGal I did not love this as much as I thought I would. Everybody adores these stories, so do take my opinion with a grain of salt. While there were some really interesting sentences and the observations were really sharp, overall the structure of the stories didn't ever seem to work for me and with short stories, structure is really what makes a story work for me. My favourite was the first story, with its interesting sibling relationship at its core. I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    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 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 w 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 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Book Clubbed,

    Thank you to Netgalley for this ARC. Listen to full reviews at: https://bookclubbed.buzzsprout.com/ Afterparties reminds me of Drown by Junot Diaz, his first collection of short stories. Both were written by young, talented writers wrestling to get control of their talents, pinning their ideas into quicksilver stories. They are the kind of collections that book reviewers will call “electric” and “gritty” which are codewords for, “young people of color writing about sex, drugs, and young people br Thank you to Netgalley for this ARC. Listen to full reviews at: https://bookclubbed.buzzsprout.com/ Afterparties reminds me of Drown by Junot Diaz, his first collection of short stories. Both were written by young, talented writers wrestling to get control of their talents, pinning their ideas into quicksilver stories. They are the kind of collections that book reviewers will call “electric” and “gritty” which are codewords for, “young people of color writing about sex, drugs, and young people bristling against their elders.” Anthony Veasna So was a Cambodian-American writer, a descendant of a country whose entire educated and artistic class was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. His voice is a rare and vital inclusion into the contemporary catalogue. The first half of the collection fell flat for me. The cultural valley between the narrators and their parents--often those who had escaped the Khmer Rouge genocide--presents us with nothing that hasn’t been written before by immigrant writers. Veasna So was under no obligation to mine this grief for an American audience, but the references he did make were glancing or predictable. The tone didn’t coalesce for me either. The actions were exaggerated and jokes clever, enticing us to laugh at the flat characters and their ridiculous characterizations. Some of the cultural references were outdated, other times trying to be cool, and occasionally they came across as painfully forced. Was this satire? Sitcom humor? Generic slang? For each sparkling line, there were several others that needed to be cut. The second half of the collection is stronger, however, starting with the story entitled “The Shop.” We get messy sex and stunted expectations, coming to terms with the limits of a relationship while decoding how family members view you. As Veasna So assumes narrators closer to his own age and perspective (or so it seems) the stories find momentum and purpose. The tensions between generations are cracked open and he sifts through shards with more clarity and insight. A great talent, still blossoming, leaves us enticed and pondering what he could have written in his lifetime.

  17. 5 out of 5

    da AL

    It's impossible to read this book without feeling pain that a writer so intent on making each of us more human left us at only 28 years of age. Each story is arrow-to-the-heart honest, portrayals of how pity divides us and there can never be enough compassion. His mention of Hannah Arendt underscores how we must what is right, not what others command. Unlike easy pity, though, compassion demands tough self-accountability. It's impossible to read this book without feeling pain that a writer so intent on making each of us more human left us at only 28 years of age. Each story is arrow-to-the-heart honest, portrayals of how pity divides us and there can never be enough compassion. His mention of Hannah Arendt underscores how we must what is right, not what others command. Unlike easy pity, though, compassion demands tough self-accountability.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mitch Loflin

    For those who don’t already know, Anthony Veasna So passed away at 28 this past December, less than a year before this was supposed to come out. What he’s left the world with here is a really touching collection that I think we’re lucky to have. I liked some stories more than others, but as a whole I thought these were funny and surprising and varied, but still really cohesive, with strong connections of family and different meanings of Cambodian-ness and gayness and Californian-ness throughout. For those who don’t already know, Anthony Veasna So passed away at 28 this past December, less than a year before this was supposed to come out. What he’s left the world with here is a really touching collection that I think we’re lucky to have. I liked some stories more than others, but as a whole I thought these were funny and surprising and varied, but still really cohesive, with strong connections of family and different meanings of Cambodian-ness and gayness and Californian-ness throughout. It’s a great collection by an author lost way way way too soon.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    Given the author's precipitous death so soon after this debut release, certain passages are haunting: But for me, your mother, just remember that, for better or worse, we can be described as survivors. Okay? Know that we've always kept on living. What else could we have done? or And then, afterward, when he remembered himself again, he'd smoke weed on top of the junk, because maybe his normal felt that bad? If his normal hadn't been terrible, why else did he end up the way he did? This is a solid co Given the author's precipitous death so soon after this debut release, certain passages are haunting: But for me, your mother, just remember that, for better or worse, we can be described as survivors. Okay? Know that we've always kept on living. What else could we have done? or And then, afterward, when he remembered himself again, he'd smoke weed on top of the junk, because maybe his normal felt that bad? If his normal hadn't been terrible, why else did he end up the way he did? This is a solid collection. I regret we won't have an opportunity to see what So could have done in the decades ahead.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    Anthony Veasna So's Afteparties paints a picture of life for Cambodian immigrants and their children reorienting themselves to life in California. The book opens with the story of sisters working at their family donut shop and proceeds to tell the stories of a litany of Cambodians growing up as children of survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide. One character, a teacher trying to help his students understand justice and diversity all while he himself struggles with being Cambodian and gay in San F Anthony Veasna So's Afteparties paints a picture of life for Cambodian immigrants and their children reorienting themselves to life in California. The book opens with the story of sisters working at their family donut shop and proceeds to tell the stories of a litany of Cambodians growing up as children of survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide. One character, a teacher trying to help his students understand justice and diversity all while he himself struggles with being Cambodian and gay in San Francisco's tech world. Another, a nurse to dementia patients, watches as her great aunt dies and she is forced to confront her cousin, who has always hated her. Veasna is such a strong writer and his stories are compelling, complex, and deep. Though at times the stories felt a bit too drawn out, the beauty of Afterparties is that all of the characters in the various stories are connected to one another, placing Easter eggs - and commentary on immigrant life - throughout the collection. It is truly sad we lost such a strong writer so early in his career so don't miss out on reading this very special book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Audiobook ….narrated by Jason Sean 6 hours and 56 minutes I think I would’ve digested these stories deeper in written form-(but I still felt the intense emotions). “[So’s] voice is alive—smart, flip, rude, sexually explicit, and compassionate”… - 3.5 > rating up > 4 stars 🍩🍩🍩🍩 But… [So]…. isn’t alive. He died in 2020! Blessings to his family - a sad loss & talent.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    i can’t give this anything other than 5 stars, even if it’a not a perfect book - i’d fight a bitch for anthony any day. more thoughts to come

  23. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    This book was really beautiful, sad, but beautiful. It’s made up of 9 short stories, each one relating a bit to the other ones and each one giving a bit more insight into the Khmer Rouge genocide and how the people survived and persevered. I loved all of the characters in each story and wished that their stories were longer so I could sit with them for longer. Definitely recommend reading this book

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Here is my first read from the Tournament of Books 2022 long list! Afterparties is very strong in voice, stories flitting between Cambodian American characters in Stockton, CA. A lot about family, identity, sexuality, and generational difference (one coming from a genocide, one being lazy in the suburbs.) So I get to the end of these stories and start reading the acknowledgements, blown away by who the author had as teachers and how many of his stories were published in major literary mags, and th Here is my first read from the Tournament of Books 2022 long list! Afterparties is very strong in voice, stories flitting between Cambodian American characters in Stockton, CA. A lot about family, identity, sexuality, and generational difference (one coming from a genocide, one being lazy in the suburbs.) So I get to the end of these stories and start reading the acknowledgements, blown away by who the author had as teachers and how many of his stories were published in major literary mags, and then I discover he died of a drug overdose in 2020. There is an amazingly detailed writeup of the author in Vanity Fair that discusses his ego, his plans, his family, his boyfriend, and the controversies around his death.

  25. 5 out of 5

    bella

    Afterparties is a collection of short stories, each of which provides a comprehensive snapshot of the lives of Cambodian-Americans living in California. As children of refugees, they contend with the complexities of identity, race, sexuality, friendship, and family, while also having to carry the burden of intergenerational trauma from the Khmer Rouge genocide. Anthony Veasna So writes with raw honesty and a heartfelt authenticity that brings his characters to life, and the stories are in turns Afterparties is a collection of short stories, each of which provides a comprehensive snapshot of the lives of Cambodian-Americans living in California. As children of refugees, they contend with the complexities of identity, race, sexuality, friendship, and family, while also having to carry the burden of intergenerational trauma from the Khmer Rouge genocide. Anthony Veasna So writes with raw honesty and a heartfelt authenticity that brings his characters to life, and the stories are in turns humorous and heartbreaking. While reading I felt transported, looking on as though witnessing and experiencing the events through my own senses. Another detail I enjoyed from the collection was how many of the stories were interwoven, including recurring characters—this emphasized the themes of community and family connection, and how the impact of trauma can carry on across generations. My personal favorites from the collection were Three Women of Chuck's Donuts, The Shop, Human Development, and Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly. CWs/TWs: sexual content, domestic violence/abuse, school shooting, death of parents/family members, cheating, alcohol, drugs, addiction, discussion of genocide, stalking Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review! This title will be released August 3rd, 2021.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    My thanks to Harper Ecco for granting me a copy of this book in exchange for review consideration and to promote for my Queer for Lit book club. This is a collection that screams, "Seems so easy and effortless that it had to be hard." This is not a stylistically flexing collection like Filthy Animals or an experiment of form and genre like I Hold a Wolf by the Ears. Instead, Afterparties is, quite literally, a collection of stories. You have in the collection a set of characters you feel like you My thanks to Harper Ecco for granting me a copy of this book in exchange for review consideration and to promote for my Queer for Lit book club. This is a collection that screams, "Seems so easy and effortless that it had to be hard." This is not a stylistically flexing collection like Filthy Animals or an experiment of form and genre like I Hold a Wolf by the Ears. Instead, Afterparties is, quite literally, a collection of stories. You have in the collection a set of characters you feel like you know living lives you feel like you've heard about/seen/experienced yourself. The stories are at once simple and deeply realized and involved. I was expecting this collection to be akin to 2019's Lot: Stories, which was a deep exploration of community, city, and queerness, and it was that in a lot of ways. You definitely get a sense for So's depiction of the square of California Cambodian's have sliced out for themselves. This collection was a bit less queer than Lot, but I found that this collection was not trying to examine queerness. Instead, So is trying to examine the ways in which Cambodian-American culture is trying to heal from very recent historical trauma, the trauma of removing the label of "misplaced person," and the striving for an "American success story." Within that, So also does great examination of the maturation of gay males and the way it intersects with the cultural impact of the Khmer Rouge. I cannot recommend this one enough as a necessary and wonderfully accomplished literary talent. For Readers Of: Lot: Stories & A Passage North

  27. 4 out of 5

    britt_brooke

    So tragic that this author passed away last year. As is evident with this posthumously published collection, he had so much to share. The son of Khmer immigrants who fled their home during the Cambodian genocide, So draws on his experiences growing up Cambodian American in California. The first story was my favorite, but it’s a pretty well-rounded collection. PS. Some of the sexy time was a bit graphic for my taste, but that’s subjective.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joachim Stoop

    This collection is fine but not excellent. Most stories will be pushed out of my memory when a next story collection comes along. I find it less versatile and funny than most other readers. Boyish is a term that comes more to mind. Thank Edelweiss for the advance copy

  29. 5 out of 5

    R

    Still reeling from the weight of the final story, which, come to think of it, seems to put the experience of reading the book in a perspective. How else can you respond to stories carrying tragedy and trauma? It's iffy when readers are put in a position to "learn" from them. But these tragedies and trauma are very specific, not the kind that desensitises. Another thought: Is there a particular reason I strongly disliked the penultimate story? Is it the workshop-py kind of structuring the narrati Still reeling from the weight of the final story, which, come to think of it, seems to put the experience of reading the book in a perspective. How else can you respond to stories carrying tragedy and trauma? It's iffy when readers are put in a position to "learn" from them. But these tragedies and trauma are very specific, not the kind that desensitises. Another thought: Is there a particular reason I strongly disliked the penultimate story? Is it the workshop-py kind of structuring the narrative and emotion that I also felt in the other stories? I was reminded, many times as I was reading the book, of the cleverness that had defined Jia Tolentino's essays, which was also the cleverness that spoiled her writing. Anyway, pick this up. But be ready for annoyance and pain. PS: Fave story: "Human Development"

  30. 5 out of 5

    Skip

    Afterparties is a collection of short stories focused on the experiences of Cambodian-Americans in California, mostly sons and daughters of immigrant/refugees who lived through the Pol Pot genocide. The stories have common themes and some commonality of characters, and deal with the everyday lives of his characters. Nothing of any real importance happens, but the stories reflect Vo's irreverent social commentary on topics ranging from race, to sex and sexuality, immigration, stereotypes, America Afterparties is a collection of short stories focused on the experiences of Cambodian-Americans in California, mostly sons and daughters of immigrant/refugees who lived through the Pol Pot genocide. The stories have common themes and some commonality of characters, and deal with the everyday lives of his characters. Nothing of any real importance happens, but the stories reflect Vo's irreverent social commentary on topics ranging from race, to sex and sexuality, immigration, stereotypes, America as a land of opportunity, etc. Sad that the author died of a drug overdose in 2020.

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