4 out of 5 Stars
From 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.
“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!”
The words of Emily Dickinson that really spoke to Christina Olson. That was her life. Being nobody.
This book had me lured in from the very first paragraph.
“LATER HE TOLD ME 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. Faraway windows, opaque and unreadable. Ruts in the spiky grass made by an invisible vehicle, leading nowhere. Dishwater sky.”
This novel is loosely based off the story behind a painting by Andrew Wyeth called “Christina’s World”
It focuses on the sad and lonely life of Cristina Olson. She was born with twisted legs that were a challenge to get around on. In her later years, she couldn’t walk at all and had to pull herself along the ground. Doctors in later years realized that she may have had a rare neurological disorder called “Charcot-Marie-Tooth”, but in her life time nothing could be done about it.
She spent her life watching everyone leave her and move on while she had thoughts bigger than the farm she lived on.
“Two butterflies went out at Noon
And waltzed above a Stream,
Then stepped straight through the Firmament
And rested on a Beam . . .
And then together bore away
Upon a shining Sea . . .
I imagine these butterflies travelling the world, alighting in my garden for a short time before heading off again. Dream that someday I might grow wings and follow, fluttering behind them down the field and across the water.”
Due to family obligations, though, she was stuck with her chores on the farm, unable to talk with anyone, instead of enjoying life outside of her little world.
“Later, when I’m at home in bed, I conjure entire conversations I might’ve had with a boy named Robert Allan, whose brown eyes and wavy hair I found so appealing that I could hardly bear to look at him directly, even from across the room.
And then, in my imagining, the music starts. “May I have this dance, Christina?” Robert asks.
“Why, yes,” I say.
He extends his hand, and when I take it, he pulls me close, his chest warm against mine. Through my blouse I feel his other hand on the small of my back, guiding me gently, firmly, as he moves forward on his left foot and I step backward with my right: two slow steps, three quick ones, hold. Forward, forward, side to side . . .
I drift to sleep, hearing the music in my head, moving my toes to the rhythm. Two slow steps, three quick ones, hold. Two slow steps, three quick ones, hold.”
This is a slow paced novel, it is a quick and easy read but it’s not full of thrills… It’s full of longing. I didn’t know whether to love Christina, or to hate her. She starts off as someone you admire, and slowly seems to degrade into a bitter old woman to the point where it’s difficult to feel sorry for her. She tries to hold everyone back because she herself is limited in life.
When the synopsis says it’s “told in evocative and lucid prose” it’s not kidding. I loved the description in the writing style. I really understood the feelings of the characters and the nature of the house house they lived in.Even something as simple as fishing can be made into a vivid experience through the words on the page.
“Papa hands each of us a handline. It’s a simple rig, cotton line coated with linseed oil and wrapped around a piece of wood he whittled on each end to better hold the line. There’s a big hook at the end and a lead weight to make it sink. He teaches us to bait the hook with chum he keeps in an old bucket covered by a board. We let our lines down slowly, and then we wait. I don’t catch anything, but Al’s line is magic. Is it the way he fastens his bait? The way he jigs his line, making the fish believe it’s alive? Or is it something else, a serene confidence that fish will come? Half a dozen times there’s an almost imperceptible tug on the line between Al’s forefinger and thumb, and he in response pulls hard on the line to set his hook and then, hand over hand, hauls in a flapping haddock or cod from the depths of the sea, over the gunwales into our boat.
With the skill of a surgeon, he removes the hook from the fish and detangles the line. He insists on rowing all the way back by himself. When we land at the dock, he holds up his palms, red and raw, and grins. He’s proud of his blisters.”
I think Christina herself spells this book out the best in a line quoted from “O Pioneers”
“People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose than to find…”
A Piece of the World is Best Served With
a Garden Kitchen Sink Gimlet
I got the idea for this drink at Saveur and OH MY GOSH is it good!!!! I mean, SO GOOD!!!! Like “Danger, Will Robinson, DANGER!” Kind of good!!! you will want to sit out in the fresh air with this book and this drink and drink then until you can’t read anymore!
8 mint leaves
1 tablespoon blackberries
1/4 cucumber cut into thin rounds
1 oz gin
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz creme de casis
- Muddle mint, blackberries, and cucumbers in a cocktail shaker
- Add gin, lime juice, cassis, and ice and shake vigorously
- Strain into a highball glass filled with ice and garnish with blackberries and mint.