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 must decide whether she has the courage to carve out a peaceful spot in the world for herself and her girls.
“With exquisite language and unflinching storytelling Kristin Bair O’Keeffe opens wide a world of immigrant struggle and the heartbreaking compromises our ancestral mothers faced. In turns brutal and hopeful, Thirsty is a beautiful account of an ordinary woman in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. It is a reminder that small miracles still happen.”
“[Bair] 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”