Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A Piece of the World

Author: Christina Baker Kline
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 320
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: February 21, 2017
First Line: "Later he told me he'd been afraid to show me the painting."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the smash bestseller Orphan Train, a stunning and atmospheric novel of friendship, passion, and art, inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s mysterious and iconic painting Christina’s World.

"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.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: After reading and absolutely loving Baker Kline's book, The Orphan Train, three years ago, I was more than a little excited to read her next book. As with Orphan Train, Baker Kline has done a tremendous amount of research - this time featuring New England, Andrew Wyeth and two eras, 1917-1918 and post WWII. She pulls her readers into the small world inhabited by Christina Olson, the woman who inspired the iconic Wyeth painting "Christina's World", as she writes a fictional account of the painting's real-life muse.

Each summer, for over thirty years, Andrew Wyeth went to Christina's farm house and painted. Over time, he and Christina bonded over shared experiences of their overbearing fathers and their physical limitations. It was through this connection that Christina became such an integral part of one of Wyeth's most famous paintings.

This is an intense and melancholic read. Christina is a woman with a deep attachment to her family, their house and land as well as her brother, Al who is always by her side. Christina's affliction, which initially keeps her mainly home bound, becomes less about her physical limitations and more and more about her stubbornness and her emotional and mental afflictions that bear down on her over time. Her bitterness is understandable with all that she lost and what she has had to endure but while she was a unique main character, her demeanor, apathy and choices made it hard to sympathize with her.

I'm grateful that the author provided a picture of the painting at the back of the book because I often turned to it as the story progressed. It is a quietly intense painting which features a stark landscape and a woman lying in a field looking towards a farmhouse.  The more you look at the painting, the more it evokes emotion and additional questions. 

This is a character driven story which was well researched and based on a unique premise. It is a quiet kind of read with no huge twists or jarring moments. Instead, it is a fictional story of the life and struggles of the mysterious woman in the iconic painting. I appreciate the work that went into sharing her story with the world and while I didn't connect with this book as much as I would have hoped, it was well written and an interesting read.

Baker Kline has given Christina Olson a voice and lets her readers into Christina's seemingly simple, stark yet complicated world. As Wyeth did so many years ago, Baker Kline has helped Christina Olson to finally be seen.  

Favourite Quote"What she wants most - what she truly yearns for - is what any of us want: to be seen."

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