Excerpt from Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So , plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Anthony Veasna So

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna  So X
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna  So
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2021, 272 pages
    Jun 7, 2022, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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"We can't just leave this man in the seating area," Kayley protests, through clenched teeth.

Sothy glances at the man. "He's fine," she says. "He's Khmer."

"You don't need to drag me," Tevy says, breaking free from her mother's grip, but it's too late, and they are in the kitchen, overdosing on the smell of yeast and burning air from the ovens.

Sothy, Tevy, and Kayley gather around the kitchen island. Trays of freshly fried dough, golden and bare, sit next to a bath of glaze. Sothy picks up a naked donut and dips it into the glaze. When she lifts the donut back into the air, trails of white goo trickle off it.

Kayley looks at the kitchen doors. "What if this entire time that man hasn't been staring out the window?" she asks Tevy. "What if he's been watching us in the reflection?"

"It's kind of impossible not to do both at the same time," Tevy answers, and she dunks two donuts into the glaze, one in each hand.

"That's just so creepy," Kayley says, an exhilaration blooming within her.

"Get to work," Sothy snaps.

Kayley sighs and picks up a donut.

ANNOYED AS SHE IS by Kayley's whims, Tevy cannot deny being intrigued by the man as well. Who is he, anyway? Is he so rich he can buy apple fritters only to let them sit uneaten? By his fifth visit, his fifth untouched apple fritter, his fifth decision to sit in the same booth, Tevy finds the man worthy of observation, inquiry, and analysis—a subject she might even write about for her philosophy paper.

The summer class she's taking, at the community college next to the abandoned mall, is called "Knowing." Surely writing about this man, and the questions that arise when confronting him as a philosophical subject, could earn Tevy an A in her class, which would impress college admissions committees next year. Maybe it would even win her a fancy scholarship, allow her to escape this depressed city.

"Knowing" initially caught Tevy's eye because it didn't require any prior math classes; the coursework involved only reading, writing a fifteen-page paper, and attending morning lectures, which she could do before going home to sleep in the afternoon. Tevy doesn't understand most of the texts, but then neither does the professor, she speculates, who looks like a homeless man the community college found on the street. Still, reading Wittgenstein is a compelling enough way to pass the dead hours of the night.

Tevy's philosophical interest in the man was sparked when her mother revealed that she knew, from only a glance, that he was Khmer.

"Like, how can you be sure?" Kayley whispered on the man's third visit, wrinkling her nose in doubt.

Sothy finished arranging the donuts in the display case, then glanced at the man and said, "Of course he is Khmer." And that of course compelled Tevy to raise her head from her book. Of course, her mother's condescending voice echoed, the words ping-ponging through Tevy's head, as she stared at the man. Of course, of course.

Throughout her sixteen years of life, her parents' ability to intuit all aspects of being Khmer, or emphatically not being Khmer, has always amazed and frustrated Tevy. She'd do something as simple as drink a glass of ice water, and her father, from across the room, would bellow, "There were no ice cubes in the genocide!" Then he'd lament, "How did my kids become so not Khmer?" before bursting into rueful laughter. Other times, she'd eat a piece of dried fish or scratch her scalp or walk with a certain gait, and her father would smile and say, "Now I know you are Khmer."

What does it mean to be Khmer, anyway? How does one know what is and is not Khmer? Have most Khmer people always known, deep down, that they're Khmer? Are there feelings Khmer people experience that others don't?

Variations of these questions used to flash through Tevy's mind whenever her father visited them at Chuck's Donuts, back before the divorce. Carrying a container of papaya salad, he'd step into the middle of the room, and, ignoring any customers, he'd sniff his papaya salad and shout, "Nothing makes me feel more Khmer than the smell of fish sauce and fried dough!"

Excerpted from Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So . Copyright © 2021 by Anthony Veasna So . Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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