Published by William Morrow on February 21, 2017
Source: the publisher
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"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.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
why i read it:
Andrew Wyeth is my favorite artist and his painting Christina’s World is my favorite of his work, so when I found out about A Piece Of The World by Christina Baker Kline, it shot to the top of my most-anticipated list. And I loved this book so much. I wish I could read it again for the first time.
Author Christina Baker Kline took the girl that is seated in the front of the painting, with her back turned to the viewer, and gave us her story in A Piece Of The World. The book is set from the 1910’s to the 1940’s and is told from Christina Olson’s point of view, and this is important because she has quite a story. Hers is one of dreams and a love of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, of being born onto family land steeped in history and tradition, of degenerative disease, of a set of parents that made decisions for her and almost never let her express herself.
I’m amazed at how Christina Olson got along as well as she did. She was not the easiest character to love on every single page, but I had plenty of grace for her as I can imagine that I might have had a pretty terrible attitude if I would have been in her shoes. She spent nearly her entire life in the house in which she was born – with one of her loyal brothers by her side – and it seems like there were very few things that she had to look forward to. Her days were almost mechanical with there repetition. But there were some happy things there: her favorite cat, the sweet peas that she planted outside of her window, and every summer when the famous artist Andrew Wyeth would come paint in her upstairs.
I love how Christina knew very little of Andy’s fame because of the remote location and lifestyle in which she lived. She just knew that Andy was her friend and that he used her home (and even her) as his inspiration. When he was there, it was a delight for her because it brought life to the otherwise dreary home. There were footsteps when there was otherwise quiet; there was another person to chat with throughout the day. Christina didn’t love every painting that Andy made featuring her, but with Christina’s World —
Listen, when I love a book so, so much, I either have a really hard time finding the words to express my love or I have too many. In this case, I think I could talk all day. Ultimately, what the author has done here is taken a character that the world has wondered about for years and given her life. It is clear that she has researched well and then written life into Christina. Her character – whether you like her or not – is fully developed and robust, and it is easy to picture her days spent on her Maine farm, in the house, ambling around as she slowly loses herself to that terrible disease. It is easy to hear her bitterness in our heads as we read and it is even understandable, particularly when we read about her interactions with people from the town, with potential lovers, with the teacher that took a special interest in furthering her education. And the family and friends that surrounded Christina? They’re fully developed too. The characterization in this book is divine.
And so is the setting. It is as atmospheric as the [American] cover suggests, and so lush. While I was reading, my curiosity was so high that I took time to look online at the places mentioned in the book and fell so in love. These areas, both then and now, are so lovely, and the author wrote them perfectly so that they appeared nearly exactly in my head. Wonderful example of setting-as-character here.
One thing that I loved about this book is that there is no use of romance between Andy and Christina to further the plot-I wonder if that has been speculation with some potential readers, so I want to make that clear. Christina has her own relationships and Andy has his own relationships. There is one thing that I would change if I could: the book jumps back and forth in time between the 1910’s-1940’s, so I found myself double-checking to see which year I was in a few times. Nonlinear books sometimes do this to me and I find that keeps me from completely-seamless reading. In the end, I did not enjoy the book any less at all because of this. But I find that sometimes this makes the difference in what format I want to read in between print, ebook, or audiobook.\
It could be that my love for this book is so BIG because of my big love for Andrew Wyeth and this painting, sure. And Andrew Wyeth is indeed in this book, but his role is small compared to Christina’s. This is her story. She really only wanted to be seen and heard; Andrew Wyeth gave her that chance and now Ms. Baker Kline has given her the chance as well. I loved it. I feel like I’ve personally been handed a gift with this story and I’m just thrilled about that.