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

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Afterparties

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
    Paperback:
    Jun 7, 2022, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Just in case, she decides to close the store during her delivery. "Keep this door locked while I'm gone," she tells her daughters after loading her car.

"Why are you so insecure about everything?" Tevy says.

And Kayley says, "We're not babies."

Sothy looks them in the eyes. "Please, be safe."

The door is locked, but the owners' daughters are clearly inside; you can see them through the illuminated windows, sitting at the counter. So the man stands at the glass door and waits. He stares at the daughters until they notice a shadow in a suit hovering outside.

The man waves for them to let him enter, and Kayley says to her sister, "Weird—it looks like he's been in a fight."

And Tevy, noticing the man's messy hair and haunted expression, says, "We need to interview him." She hesitates just a moment before unlocking the door, cracking it open. Inflamed scratches crisscross his neck. Smudges of dirt mottle his wrinkled white shirt.

"I need to get inside," he says gravely. It's the only thing Tevy has heard him say other than "I'll have an apple fritter."

"Our mom told us not to let anyone in," Tevy says.

"I need to get inside," the man repeats, and who is Tevy to ignore the man's sense of purpose?

"Fine," Tevy says, "but you have to let me interview you for a class assignment." She looks him over again, considers his bedraggled appearance. "And you still need to buy something."

The man nods and Tevy opens the door for him. As he crosses the threshold, dread washes over Kayley as she becomes aware of the fact that she and her sister know nothing at all about the man. All their deliberations concerning his presence have gotten them nowhere, really, and right now the only things Kayley truly knows are: she is a child; her sister is not quite an adult; and they are betraying their mother's wishes.

Soon Tevy and Kayley are sitting across from the man in his booth. Scribbled notes and an apple fritter are laid out between them on the table. The man stares out the window, as always, and, as always, the sisters study his face.

"Should we start?" Tevy asks.

The man says nothing.

Tevy tries again. "Can we start?"

"Yes, we can start," the man says, still staring out into the dark night.


THE INTERVIEW BEGINS with the question "You're Khmer, right?" and then a pause, a consideration. Tevy meant this to be a softball question, a warm-up for her groundbreaking points of investigation, but the man's silence unnerves her.

Finally, the man speaks. "I am from Cambodia, but I'm not Cambodian. I'm not Khmer."

And Tevy, feeling sick to her stomach, asks, "Wait, what do you mean?" She looks at her notes, but they aren't any help. She looks at Kayley, but she isn't any help, either. Her sister is as confused as she is.

"My family is Chinese," the man continues. "For several generations, we've married Chinese Cambodians."

"Okay, so you are Chinese ethnically, and not Khmer ethnically, but you're still Cambodian, right?" Tevy asks.

"Only I call myself Chinese," the man answers.

"But your family has lived in Cambodia for generations?" Kayley interjects.

"Yes."

"And you and your family survived the Khmer Rouge regime?" Tevy asks.

Again, the man answers, "Yes."

"So do you speak Khmer or Chinese?"

The man answers, "I speak Khmer."

"Do you celebrate Cambodian New Year?"

Again, the man answers, "Yes."

"Do you eat rotten fish?" Kayley asks.

"Prahok?" the man asks. "Yes, I do."

"Do you buy food from the Khmer grocery store or the Chinese one?" Tevy asks.

The man answers, "Khmer."

"What's the difference between a Chinese family living in Cambodia and a Khmer family living in Cambodia?" Tevy asks. "Aren't they both still Cambodian? If they both speak Khmer, if they both survived the same experiences, if they both do the same things, wouldn't that make a Chinese family living in Cambodia somewhat Cambodian?"

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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