Tuesday, March 7, 2017
"Later he told me that he’d been afraid to show me the painting. He thought I wouldn’t like the way he portrayed me: dragging myself across the field, fingers clutching dirt, my legs twisted behind. The arid moonscape of wheatgrass and timothy. That dilapidated house in the distance, looming up like a secret that won’t stay hidden." To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.
As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.
Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy. -- William Morrow
I have a pretty big backlog of books that I need to review, some from a few weeks or even months ago, but I couldn't wait to tell you about A PIECE OF THE WORLD by Christina Baker Kline. Many of you came to know and love Ms. Kline's writing after reading her hugely successful novel ORPHAN TRAIN, and I think you will appreciate her latest story too. I adored it!
A PIECE OF THE WORLD was inspired by Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World -- see the cover of the novel. I was fortunate enough to hear Ms. Kline speak at last year's SIBA about this book, and I walked away from Savannah knowing that this was one book that I had to read. (I was also fortunate enough to sit with her for the Harper Collins author breakfast -- squeee!) She explained how she took facts from the real Christina Olson's life and incorporated them with fiction.
Christina Olsen lived on her family's farm in the small town of Cushing, Maine. She lived with a great deal of pain and her illness continued to get worse so Christina had limited mobility... and limited interaction with others. No one, including Christina, ever would have thought that she would have ended up not only hosting Andrew Wyeth in her home for decades, but that she'd also end up be the inspiration for his best-known painting Christina's World.
Ms. Kline did a remarkable job of creating Christina and "Christina's World" in this novel. She developed a remarkable complex character who had a unique bond with one of the most famous painters of the 20th century as well as difficult relationship with her own family and friends. I found Christina to be an intriguing woman, and one that I felt an incredible amount of sympathy towards. Her family life, especially her ties to the farm, as well as her illness made her life both difficult and, in many ways, tragic. Her character was so real that I felt her pain, both physically and emotionally; and my heart broke as I realized how truly sad her story was.
Another aspect of the novel that I really enjoyed was how Ms. Kline decided to tell Christina's story. The book is written through the eyes of Christina, and there is absolutely no doubt that the author captured her voice perfectly. In addition, the story moved back and forth between her childhood and adult life, and I felt like the transitions were extremely well done. I especially appreciated the difference in how Christina's character was portrayed as a child and then an adult. There was so much hope in the character's childhood when she thought she had the opportunity to be a teacher, and then the bitter reality as she realized that her destiny would always be tied to her family and their land. I loved the the book went back and forth, and Christina's entire story was eventually revealed to the reader.
I also loved how the author chose to portray the relationships in Christina's life. The one I appreciated the most was between Christina and Wyeth. Christina definitely felt an affinity to Wyeth, and their friendship was something special. I also found the story of Christina and her love interest to be interesting (I guess that's the right word), as well as the ones between her and her parents and her and her brother. All in all, I'd say that the author did a wonderful job in making these characters both interesting and their relationships complex.
A PIECE OF THE WORLD would make a fabulous book club selection. I wasn't able to find a link to a discussion guide, but I seriously doubt you'd need a formal one. There are plenty of issues to discuss, namely Christina and her relationships. In addition, you might want to talk about family, obligations, illness, guilt, sacrifice, and love.
I think fans of ORPHAN TRAIN are going to love A PIECE OF THE WORLD. Highly recommended!
I received an autographed (yay!) copy of this novel at last year's SIBA.