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Thirsty: A Novel

A book by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

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Beautiful prose that turns a sad topic into a fascinating one

  • Nov 6, 2009
  • by
At first, I was apprehensive about reading the novel when its description references abuse, a steel town, a depressing place, heartbreak. Yet, I found myself absorbed in Thirsty, which tells a lyrical story about the unbendable spirit of Klara, an immigrant from Croatia.

The story begins in 1883 in Croatia where Klara contends with an abusive father. Her eventual and equally abusive husband, Drago, enters the picture as a likable guy who romances her the old-fashioned way. However, soon after arriving in the dark town of Thirsty -- a town outside of Pittsburgh -- Drago changes and it's not good.

Klara feels let down as she thought America was supposed to be colorful, full of meadows and an uplifting kind of place. Her depressing beginnings of her life in America compel you to keep reading when you meet the locals: her best friend and husband, the town drunk and a black man who owns a store.

She has three children during the Thirsty's 40-year journey of her life. O'Keeffe's writing arouses the reader's curiosity. The story never turns into a predictable one. O'Keeffe doesn't dwell on Klara's abuse. Instead she touches it -- just enough to give you an idea of what she lives with -- without wallowing in it.

It's Klara's relationships with the town's people that add color in her dark world. Her neighbor, Katherine doesn't put up with Klara's abusive husband. You can't help but cheer for her and like the gal. Drago's dislike of blacks scares Klara into staying away from BenJo, the shopkeeper whom Klara befriends despite her husband's warnings. Klara has strange encounters with Old Man Rupert, the drunk.

Katherine tells captivating stories to Klara, one of which explains how "amen" came to be. This 200-paged novel packs a lot of emotions, events, discoveries, sadness, hardship and growth to keep you intrigued while learning about the times, the working-class, the mills and the traditions.

O'Keeffe tells the enthralling story with amazing eloquence. She takes a reader on a journey of good and bad surprises worth discovering that ends on a fulfilling note without an ounce of predictability.

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Meryl K Evans ()
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About this book


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.)
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Books, Fiction, Domestic Fiction, Immigration, Croatian Americans


ISBN-10: 0804011230
ISBN-13: 978-0804011235
Author: Kristin Bair O'Keeffe
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Swallow Press
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