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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