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Thirsty: A Novel
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Thirsty: A Novel

4.0 3
by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

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It is 1883, and all of Klara Bozic’s girlish dreams have come crashing down as she arrives in Thirsty, a gritty steel town carved into the slopes above the Monongahela River just outside of Pittsburgh. She has made a heartbreaking discovery. Her new husband Drago is as abusive as the father she left behind in Croatia.

In Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s


It is 1883, and all of Klara Bozic’s girlish dreams have come crashing down as she arrives in Thirsty, a gritty steel town carved into the slopes above the Monongahela River just outside of Pittsburgh. She has made a heartbreaking discovery. Her new husband Drago is as abusive as the father she left behind in Croatia.

In Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Klara’s life unfolds over forty years as she struggles to find her place in a new country where her survival depends on the friends who nurture her: gutsy, funny Katherine Zupanovic, who isn’t afraid of Drago’s fist; BenJo, the only black man in Thirsty to have his own shop; and strangely enough, Old Man Rupert, the town drunk.

Thirsty follows a chain of unlikely events that keep Klara’s spirit aloft: a flock of angelic butterflies descends on Thirsty; Klara gives birth to her first child in Old Man Rupert’s pumpkin patch; and BenJo gives her a talking bird. When Klara’s daughter marries a man even more brutal than Drago, Klara is forced to act. If she doesn’t finally break the cycle of violence in her family, her granddaughters will one day walk the same road, broken and bruised. As the threads that hold her family together fray and come undone, Klara has to decide if she has the courage to carve out a peaceful spot in the world for herself and her girls.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Thirsty is a rare and special type of book—an intelligent page turner, a forward-thinking historical drama, a picture painted with equal shades of light and darkness. The language is consistently surprising and often intensely beautiful, the characters rich
with nuance."
— David Crouse, author of The Man Back There

“A debut novel that is artfully told and full of literary surprises, Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s Thirsty tackles oppression at the turn of the twentieth century without wincing. . . . Stark, poetic, and brimming with hope, Thirsty glimpses the uncomfortable truth about what it means to house a battered heart and live a life shackled by seemingly insurmountable circumstances.”
— Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama and Get Known before the Book Deal

"Thirsty is a beautiful tale, vivid and gently told. It is the story of one woman’s incredible strength of spirit, and a reminder of the foundation contemporary America is built upon—one of unspeakable cruelty, and Job-like suffering, as well as generosity and unbreakable hope."
— Don De Grazia, author of American Skin

“Kristin Bair O'Keeffe's Thirsty has all the power of a small miracle. The mysteries of nineteenth century, small town factory life—the sudden appearance of thousands of butterflies, an extraordinary affliction of hiccups, a talking bird—brilliantly transcend the accumulation of everyday cruelties. A remarkably good read.”
— Joe Meno, author of The Great Perhaps and Hairstyles of the Damned

An “intelligent, poignant and well-written novel…. A must read.”
Story Circle Book Reviews

“This is a multi-layered book that cannot be read too quickly. It is a novel about domestic abuse, social class, stereotypes, prejudice, sexuality, faith, and friendship. Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s poetic writing grasps the reader and does not let go until the final words of the last chapter. Her descriptions of tragedy and loss are so gut wrenching! At times, I found myself holding my breath.”
— Author Exposure Book Club

“What I liked most: The writing. The writing is beautiful…. Recommend it to? Anyone who likes reading character-driven books. The writing is beautiful so it’s well worth a read.”
— Kay’s Bookshelf

“With important—and contemporary—issues at stake in the life of a fully fleshed character, the novel has the makings of a savored read. And O’Keeffe’s succulent language quenches a thirst.”
ForeWord Reviews

Publishers Weekly
O’Keeffe chronicles the troubling story of a late 19th-century Croatian émigrée whose expectations that life in a Pittsburgh steel town will brighten her fortunes are harshly dashed. Born and raised on a farm in Croatia, Klara is taken by a handsome young transient, Drago Bozic, who urges her to accompany him to Thirsty, Pa., where his brother works in the steel mills. After the recent death of her mother, Klara wants to flee her grim life, which consists mostly of taking care of her siblings and being battered by her angry father. Yet almost as soon as the affectionate young married couple arrives in Thirsty, Drago grows hard and volatile, beating Klara routinely, and Klara recognizes that she has accepted her mother’s fate. After the one neighbor who steps in during their fights is killed in the mill, Klara is left without a protector, and her inability to leave Drago casts a generational pall over the family, as their daughter also marries a batterer. O’Keeffe’s debut gracefully encapsulates the working-class cycle of poverty and hopelessness in the lives of these hard-laboring, sympathetic wives and mothers. (Oct.)

Product Details

Ohio University Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

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Meet the Author

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe has an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, the Baltimore Review, and the Gettysburg Review. She lives in Shanghai, China.

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Thirsty 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Layers-of-Thought More than 1 year ago
About Thirsty: The setting is the late 1800's. Klara is a young Croatian woman whom meets her would be husband on the front door step or her father's home. At once the two are linked. A chemistry of sorts, which is much deeper than it seems. Driven by their intense attraction, and as a way to leave her abusive father's home and the care of her many sisters and brothers (her mother is dead), Klara returns to America with her new husband to a town called Thirsty. Thirsty is your typical factory centered town of the period. It is a place rife with racism, extreme social class distinctions, as well as smoke and greasy ash from the local foundry. This factory is the city's economic engine providing a glimpse into the era; a time when hungry workers were essentially treated as a commodity and where their lives were as expendable as animals and very often lost. As the story progresses we see Klara's perspective, feel her strength, and hear her voice through her complex emotions as her life continues. As she becomes settled into the community and her life stumbles on, she realizes more and more, that her husband is very much like her father. My Thoughts: This historical fiction is at once heartbreaking yet lyrical. It looks at a person's beliefs and patterns which are exchanged from generation to generation. In this case it is based on domestic violence and from my understanding is called "the cycle of abuse". It is exemplified by the main character who watches as her mother is beaten by her father, and she in turn, by default chooses a man who is also of this nature. So this cycle continues - sadly passing onto her daughter as well. I enjoyed this little book. It is descriptive of this time and has a touch of the magical; several spectacular natural events, one of which is pictured on the cover (butterflies being my favorite). The author also has a sweet and easy to read writing style almost like poetry. However, being a mostly secular person, I did have a tough time dealing with a complete page detailing "God's Will", where every other phrase contains the words "God's Will". I see where this may appeal to those whom are passionate about their faith. My biggest problem with this, however, is that an abused women cannot wait on the "Will of God" to intervene. Those whom are being abused need to take the steps necessary to walk away from their abusers. It is my hope that this is what the author intended, as a jumping place for a discussion around this scary and life threatening issue. To facilitate women into taking the life saving steps that are needed, beyond their religious beliefs. Other than my above concerns, I enjoyed this book. I give it 3 stars. It is also important to note that the book contains graphic violence and that there is also strong sexual scenes running through its pages.
ChristysBookBlog More than 1 year ago
Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'Keefe is historical fiction that resonates with today's reader. "I am unhappy. I despise my husband. I settled in ways I'd never planned. I am not honest. All my life I've shared in lies. I lied to my children, told them this world was good and kind despite their father's cruelty," words from Klara, the main character of this stunning debut novel. Klara leaves Croatia in 1883 at the age of sixteen and marries Drago to escape the fists of her father and the never-ending care of her five siblings. They come to American looking for a better life and instead find Thirsty, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town that seems colored in shades of mustard yellow, black, and red and free of any beauty. Klara and Drago's marriage quickly falls into the pattern of Klara's parents: screams, abuse, black eyes and bloody noses. Into this dark world, Klara brings three children, including daughter Sky who eventually continues the family tradition of violent marriage. The novel follows over thirty years of Klara's life as she faces death, loss, and grief beyond imagine. O'Keefe's voice is bruising in its brutal honesty about the legacy of familial abuse, but she leaves the reader breathless and with just a hint of hope for the fate of Sky's daughters. This is a novel that just won't let the reader go even with the turn of the final page.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Klara Bozic has huge dreams as she emigrates from 19th Century Croatia, leaving behind an abusive family and dreaming that America is truly the land where streets are paved with gold, or at least better dreams and possibilities that she had envisioned in the past. She winds up in a small Pennsylvania town called Thirsty, married to man who is also physically and verbally abusive. It's a remarkably harsh life, in a town ruled by the whistle of the steel factories and dread of a harsher home life. Klara, somehow, the reader comes to believe miraculously, finds small joys in a few kind neighbors, her children, and dreams of a better life for her children. She develops a deep friendship with a neighbor after she gives birth to her daughter in a pumpkin patch and loves her talking bird given to her by Benjo. The one man who defends her from Drago's attacks and whom Drago fears is killed in an accident and there is no more hope of escaping Drago's brutal temper. Klara at times yields to a feistier part of herself and challenges Drago, but she is unable to end the cycle of violence until long after her daughter is married and shows up brutalized by the same type of abuser. It's a very sad story in so many ways, and yet O'Keeffe manages to tell the story with enough charming incidents to rescue it from being a dirge. A touch of subtle yet ironic humor is often added, as in the story of the origin of the word, "A-men." Finally, it is Old Man Rupert who gives her the ability and the courage to do something Klara should have done over 40 years ago. It's a beautiful ending, promising hope and small joys in the darkest of nights. Lovely and very quietly but powerfully depicted, Ms. O'Keeffe! Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on December 14, 2009