Afterparties: Stories by Anthony Veasna So , pub. Ecco Press When Anthony Veasna So died in December, aged just 28, he left behind a reputation as an author on the brink of stardom, a powerful voice for other Khmer youth growing up in America in the shadow of the collective tragedy of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Now, a collection of his short stories, Afterparties , has been published, helping his fiction to reach a larger audience. Many of the tales have already appeared in leading magazines, including The New Yorker and literary journal n+1 , but Afterparties offers a chance to read them as a whole, and combined they feel far greater than the sum of their parts. The nine stories are filled with vignettes of Cambodian-American life, with younger generations growing up burdened with the inherited trauma of life under the Khmer Rouge, the vicious regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and instigated a genocide that killed up to two million people, a fifth of the country’s population. The stories are melancholic in tone, but many are also filled with humour and touching moments of families trying to understand one another. From the opening story, “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts”, we have a glimpse of the many facets of the Khmer-American experience. In it, a mother and her two daughters run a struggling doughnut shop in California. The mother realises she’s slaving away as her own mother did “until she grew old and tired and the markets disappeared and her hands went from twisting dough to picking rice in order to serve the Communist ideals of a genocidal regime”. A strange nightly visitor offers the daughters something new to focus on, and gives them a chance to unlock what it now means to be Khmer. In “Superking Son Scores Again”, a group of teenagers initially look up to Superking Son, a domineering middle-aged man who teaches them badminton and runs a dingy mom-and-pop store frequented by the local Cambodian community. But as his life begins to unravel, they start to look at him with increasing pity. Like many of the characters in his stories, So’s own parents fled the Killing Fields, spending time in a refugee camp in Thailand before settling in California. As such, he writes about a community he knows well, focusing on domestic relationships and the striking divisions between the first-generation migrants and their Americanised children. The stories are filled with drugs, teenage angst and sexual hookups, as well as Buddhist monks, struggling family-run businesses and reincarnated relatives. In “Maly, Maly, Maly”, a teenage girl struggles to understand how she feels about the traditions surrounding the ceremonial rebirth of her dead mother’s spirit in the body of a second cousin’s baby. She smokes weed and screws her boyfriend as elderly Khmer women from the neighbourhood busily prepare for the upcoming event. The stories in Afterparties are varied, but key themes appear throughout, particularly the lingering psychological impact of the genocide. The overriding message is that the memories of those dark days never seem to leave those who lived through them, and act as a form of inherited trauma for future generations. “Do you remember what Dad said about marriage?” a daughter in Chuck’s Donuts asks at one point. “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.” Episodes like this are peppered throughout the collection, among equally poignant scenes that stay in your mind long after you finish the book. In the penultimate story, “Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly”, an elderly woman suffering from dementia is looked after by a Khmer-American nurse in a care home. “I plead for her to take her medication without a fight,” the nurse says of their daily interactions. “By the time the afternoon comes, Ma Eng will have reverted to hallucinations of war and genocide. Communists lurk behind the curtain. The plants by the window sprawl into ‘rice fields’. Ma Eng waters those plants like she’ll get beaten to death if she doesn’t.” This impressive debut collection of short stories is all the more poignant for knowing there won’t be more to come.