BENJAMIN BARRETT WRITTEN – Although stories of immigration to the United States are common, it is rare that we can read about them in a fictional, entertaining, and emotionally evocative way. However, in his book Afterparty (2021), Anthony Veasna So does just that.
Even before his book was published, So’s life was unexpectedly interrupted when he deceased of a drug overdose on December 8, 2020. He was a 28-year-old queer aspiring writer, whose style and emotions can easily be seen in his diversity of characters. These people are full of curiosity, affection, anxiety, and depression, but they all deal with their situations in very different ways.
So’s book features a collection of short stories that share the experiences of first generation Cambodian immigrants. He notes that all of the stories and names used are fictitious, however, he thanks his parents for telling him about their lives and says that many of his stories are inspired by their experiences.
Afterparty does an amazing job connecting Cambodian heritage to American life. Many stories take place in traditionally “American” places such as donut shops, car stores, grocery stores, and more. However, the experiences of the characters themselves are truly unique to those of Cambodian Americans.
For example, in the first story, a mother and her two daughters are suspicious of a man who keeps coming back to their donut shop. They believe the man is from Cambodia and is looking to collect money that was borrowed by the mother’s ex-husband in the distant past.
Another story shows the depressing life of a high school badminton coach through the eyes of his players. They admire him like no one else until one day a new student joins the team. The new student, Justin, is an excellent badminton player and the kids revere and adore him. The coach becomes more and more jealous of Justin until they end up facing off in a combative game of badminton. The coach wins and is overwhelmed with joy, but players lose respect for him as his dark side clearly defeats him, revealing his buried insecurities surrounding his sportsmanship.
The stories refer to the old and new generations and their struggle to integrate with each other and with other Cambodian Americans. The older generation lived Cambodian genocide. So’s writing often refers to brutality Khmer Rouge regime and his despotic leader, Pol Pot. The youngest in the stories do not fully understand the severity of the Khmer Rouge regime. They have a hard time grasping the extent of the violence, in part because elders often joke about it, which just confuses them.
While So sadly left this world prematurely, he survives through his powerful stories. His writing style, character development, and creative storylines all reflect a queer young Cambodian American in search of his place in an ever-changing world.
Benjamin Barrett graduated in senior journalism from Loyola Marymount University. He eventually wants to do a report for a radio station and start his own podcast.