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 2022, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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FOR SEVERAL DAYS, the man does not visit Chuck's Donuts. But Sothy's worries only deepen. They root themselves into her bones. Her daughters' constant musings about the man only intensify her suspicion that he is a relative of her former uncle-in-law. He has come to take their lives, to torture the money out of them, perhaps to hold her daughters as collateral, investments to sell on the black market. Still, she can't risk being impulsive, lest she provoke him. And there's the possibility, of course, that he's a complete stranger. Surely he would have harmed them by now. Why this performance of waiting? She keeps herself on guard, tells her daughters to be wary of the man, to call for her if he walks through the door.

Tevy has started writing her philosophy paper, and Kayley is helping her. "On Whether Being Khmer Means You Understand Khmer People," the paper is tentatively titled. Tevy's professor requires students to title their essays in the style of On Certainty, as if starting a title with the word On makes it philosophical. She decides to structure her paper as a catalog of assumptions made about the man based on the idea that he is Khmer and that the persons making these assumptions—Tevy and Kayley—are also Khmer. Each assumption will be accompanied by a paragraph discussing the validity of the assumption, which will be determined based on the answers provided by the man, to questions that Tevy and Kayley will ask him directly. Both Tevy and Kayley agree to keep the nature of the paper secret from their mother.

The sisters spend several nights refining their list of assumptions about the man. "Maybe he also grew up with parents who never liked each other," Kayley says one night when the downtown appears less bleak, the dust and pollution lending the dark sky a red glow.

"Well, it's not like Khmer people marry for love," Tevy responds.

Kayley looks out the window for anything worth observing but sees only the empty street, a corner of the old downtown motel, the dull orange of the Little Caesars, which her mother hates because the manager won't allow her customers to park in his excessively big lot. "It just seems like he's always looking for someone, you know?" Kayley says. "Maybe he loves someone but that person doesn't love him back."

"Do you remember what Dad said about marriage?" Tevy asks. "He said that, after the camps, people paired up based on their skills. Two people who knew how to cook wouldn't marry, because that would be, like, a waste. If one person in the marriage cooked, then the other person should know how to sell food. He said marriage is like the show Survivor, where you make alliances in order to live longer. He thought Survivor was actually the most Khmer thing possible, and he would definitely win it, because the genocide was the best training he could've got."

"What were their skills?" Kayley asks. "Mom's and Dad's?"

"The answer to that question is probably the reason they didn't work out," Tevy says.

"What does this have to do with the man?" Kayley asks.

And Tevy responds, "Well, if Khmer people marry for skills, as Dad says, maybe it means it's harder for Khmer people to know how to love. Maybe we're just bad at it—loving, you know—and maybe that's the man's problem."

"Have you ever been in love?" Kayley asks.

"No," Tevy says, and they stop talking. They can hear their mother cooking in the kitchen, the routine clanging of mixers and trays, a string of sounds that just fails to coalesce into melody.

Tevy wonders if her mother has ever loved someone romantically, if her mother is even capable of reaching beyond the realm of survival, if her mother has ever been granted any freedom from worry, and if her mother's present carries the ability to dilate, for even a brief moment, into its own plane of suspended existence, separate from past or future. Kayley, on the other hand, wonders if her mother misses her father, and, if not, whether this means that Kayley's own feelings of gloom, of isolation, of longing, are less valid than she believes. She wonders if the violent chasm between her parents also exists within her own body, because isn't she just a mix of all those antithetical genes?

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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