“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.
This edition includes a four-color reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.
I grew up in a family that loved art. We had art history books and went to touring exhibits at the local museum. When I was quite young, I first saw Christina's World. I remember that it puzzled me. I wanted to know why the woman was lying in the grass. Who was she?
Of course, when I first learned that A Piece of the World was inspired by the woman in this famous painting, I wanted to read it.
This beautifully told book tells the story of Christina's life. Christina has difficulty walking as a young child, and this only becomes more pronounced over the years. She lives a quiet life in Maine with her brother. When a young local girl, Betsy, brings her beau Andrew Wyeth over, Christina's life begins to change as she, her brother, and their home become inspirations for Wyeth's art.
I love the way this story spans the years and tells Christina's history, as well as the history of her family. The author writes:
"Over the years, certain stories in the history of a family take hold. They're passed from generation to generation, gaining substance and meaning along the way. You have to learn to sift through then separating fact from conjecture, the likely from the implausible.
Here is what I know: Sometimes the least believable stories are the true ones" (p. 16).
This is a quiet, relfective novel, and I found it deeply moving. This is my second read by Christina Baker Kline. (I read and reviewed Orphan Train earlier this year.) I love the way she tells a story. The characters are so well developed and so real.
Christina's life is small and quiet, but there is great beauty in the details. I loved the attention to detail in this novel. Christina describes her life:
"When your world is small, you learn every inch of it. You can trace it in the dark; you navigate it in your sleep. Fields of rough grass sloping toward the rocky shore and the sea beyond, nooks and crannies to hide and play in. The soot-black range, always warm, in the kitchen. Geraniums on the windowsill, splayed red like a magician's handkerchief. Feral cats in the barn. Air that smells of pine and lavender, of chicken roasting in the oven and freshly ploughed soil" (p. 29).
I recommend A Piece of the World highly for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, art history, fiction involving art, or simply enjoys reading beautiful storytelling.
Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels. She lives outside of New York City and on the coast of Maine.
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.
I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.