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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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Print Excerpt

The man doesn't look at Tevy or Kayley. Throughout the interview, his eyes have searched for something outside. "My father told me that I am Chinese," the man answers. "He told me that his sons, like all other sons in our family, should marry only Chinese women."

"Well, what about being American?" Tevy asks. "Do you consider yourself American?"

The man answers, "I live in America, and I am Chinese."

"So you don't consider yourself Cambodian at all?" Kayley asks.

He turns his gaze away from the window. For the first time in their conversation, he considers the sisters who are sitting across from him. "You two don't look Khmer," he says. "You look like you have Chinese blood."

"How can you tell?" Tevy asks, startled, her cheeks burning.

The man answers, "It's in the face."

"Well, we are," Tevy says. "Khmer, I mean."

And Kayley says, "Actually, I think Mom said once that her great-grandfather was Chinese."

"Shut up," Tevy says.

And Kayley responds, "God, I was just saying."

The man stops looking at them. "We're done here. I need to focus."

"But I haven't asked my real questions," Tevy protests.

The man says, "One more question."

"Why do you never eat the apple fritters you buy?" Kayley blurts out, before Tevy can even glance at her notes.

"I don't like donuts," the man answers.

The conversation comes to a halt, as Tevy finds this latest answer the most convincing argument the man has made for not being Khmer.

"You can't be serious," Kayley says after a moment. "Then why do you buy so many apple fritters?"

The man doesn't answer. His eyes straining, he leans even closer to the window's surface, almost grazing the glass with his nose.

Tevy looks down at the backs of her hands. She examines the lightness of her brown skin. She remembers how in elementary school she always got so mad at the white kids who misidentified her as Chinese, sometimes even getting into fights with them on the bus. And she remembers her father consoling her in his truck at the bus stop. "I know I joke around a lot," he said once, his hand on her shoulder. "But you are Khmer, through and through. You should know that."

Tevy examines the man's reflection. His vision of the world disappoints her—the idea that people are limited always to what their fathers tell them. Then Tevy notices her sister reeling in discomfort.

"No," Kayley says, hitting the table with her fists. "You have to have a better answer than that. You can't just come in here almost every night, order an apple fritter, not eat it, and then tell us you don't like donuts." Breathing heavily, Kayley leans forward, the edge of the table cutting into her ribs.

"Kayley," Tevy says, concerned. "What's going on with you?"

"Be quiet!" the man yells abruptly, still staring out the window, violently swinging his arm.

Shocked into a frozen silence, the sisters don't know how to respond, and can only watch as the man stands up, clenching his fists, and charges into the center of the seating area. Right then, a woman—probably Khmer, or maybe Chinese Cambodian, or maybe just Chinese—bursts into Chuck's Donuts and starts striking the man with her purse.

"So you're spying on me?" the woman screams.

She is covered in bruises, the sisters see, her left eye nearly swollen shut. They stay in the booth, pressed against the cold glass of the window.

"You beat your own wife, and you spy on her," she says, now battering the man, her husband, with slaps. "You're—"

The man tries to push his wife away, but she hurls her body into his, and then they are on the ground, the woman on top of the man, slapping his head over and over again.

"You're scum, you're scum," the woman shrieks, and the sisters have no idea how to stop the violence that is unfolding before them, or whether they should try. They cannot even say whom they feel aligned with—the man, to whose presence they have grown attached, or the bruised woman, whose explosive anger toward the man appears warranted. They remember those punctuated moments of Chuck's Donuts' past, before the recession forced people into paralysis, when the dark energy of their city barreled into the fluorescent seating area. They remember the drive-by gang shootings, the homeless men lying in the alley in heroin-induced comas, the robberies of neighboring businesses, and even of Chuck's Donuts once; they remember how, every now and then, they panicked that their mother wouldn't make it home. They remember the underbelly of their glorious past.

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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