Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So

But she can't stop laughing. She can't stop thinking of the absurdity of this situation… "Help me clean this up", she says, facing her daughters, giving the slightest of nods toward the man on the ground, as though he were any other mess. "Customers can't see blood so close to the donuts."


Afterparties by Anthony Vaesna So is a collection of outstanding, deeply moving and heartwarming tales offering a glimpse into the lives of Cambodian-Americans. 

The book contains nine short stories, and in each we see life through an entirely different perspective, as though trying on the glasses of the strangers that walk alongside us. 

We see life through the eyes of a superstar badminton player and coach, idolized by kids ten years his junior. Not just a coach though, he's a struggling and stressed out kid himself who's trying to keep afloat his dead father's grocery store that sells to all the Cambodians in the hood. 

Later, at a car repair shop, we encounter the well-educated gay son of a mechanic. He works at a struggling repair shop with his dad, and on the side he's been hooking up with Paul. Happy and comfortable with his life. This is what he wants, comfort. The idea of something else gets in his head though that could change the direction of his life, and it's hard to see which path he'll choose. Following his heart, or securing his future.

Courtesy of Harper Collins Canada

Born and raised in Stockton, California, Anthony was a graduate of Stanford and received his MFA in fiction at Syracuse. His writing has either appeared in or is forthcoming in the New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granata, and San Francisco Journal, ZYZZYVA

Tragically, Anthony passed away at his home in San Francisco on December 8th last year at the age of 28. According to his partner, his death was sudden and unexpected. Penelope Green of the New York Times stated, "Mr. So was on the brink of literary stardom", and therefore it's devastating that he will not see this remarkable project reach completion. The book still is scheduled for release this year, expected on August 8th. 

Chris Sackes / ECCO

An important read, a book of fiction that reads like nonfiction. Afterparties was a stunning read, the prose penetrating and impassioned. The short stories convey the lives of those impacted by the genocide. Their kids and the kids that followed. It shows just how the dominoes fall in life, how the cards are dealt. A realistic view of life as a refugee, leaving a country you call home, and arriving to pastures new with a dream, a newfound hope for safety and security. Underneath the hope, comfort, and community, the effects of the genocide will forever remain, the trauma caused can never be undone. 

Afterparties will be available at Indigo and on Kobo by August 3rd. Check GoodReads for a list of other retailers. 

Additional Reading: The Khmer Rouge, Genocide, and The Donut King, Uncle Ted

Before I started Afterparties, I felt ignorant to the fact that I knew little about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide, aside from Angelina Jolie's documentary First They Killed My Father. I couldn't open the book until I'd learned more. 

While doing some further research, I stumbled upon a documentary called The Donut King about Ted Ngoy, also known as Uncle Ted, who established a path to American for Cambodian refugees. 

Before arriving in the US, Ted was in the Cambodian army, which he fled due to the Khmer Rouge. He arrived via military airline with his wife, arriving at a California refugee camp located in Pendleton. 

Within 6 months, at the age of 33, Ted joined Winchell’s donut shop’s training program and knew that this would be his future. Not long after, he purchased his own donut shop, calling it Christy’s, after his wife, who used to stay up all night helping him bake. By the mid 80s, he had over 80 shops. 

Ted sponsored more than 100 families coming to America. He paid for airfare, gave them food, lodging, and wanted to see them do well. He created a leasing program, so they could all open up donut shops and make their own money.

President Bush Sr. flew to California to present Ted with the Presidential Award for “achieving the American Dream.”

The documentary was a good transition into the first story in Afterparties and slotted in nicely to some others.