A Swallow Press Book

Thirsty — 2009

A Novel

By Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

“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.”

Publishers Weekly

“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

“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

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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 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.


Picture of Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

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.