This instant New York Times bestseller is a stunning and atmospheric novel of friendship, passion, and art, inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s mysterious and iconic painting Christina’s World.
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.
Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World is considered to be one of his best works. It features a woman in a pink dress crawling up a grassy hillside toward a stark wood-framed house. The colors are muted and the overall effect is bleak. The painting's namesake was a real person, Christina Olson, who lived on her family's seaside farm in Maine and suffered from a degenerative condition now believed to be Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease. In this finely drawn novel, the author of Orphan Train imagines what it was like to be Christina, consigned to a hard life running a farm even as her world gradually shrinks owing to a debilitating and mysterious ailment. Introduced to Wyeth by a family friend, Christina and her home inspire the artist. He visits daily, setting up a studio in an upstairs room. He admires her quick mind and perseverance. She appreciates his artistic talent and that he does not pity her. As Kline pieces together different eras of Christina's life, her word portrait depicts a stubborn, determined woman. -Library Journal
The world of the woman immortalized in Andrew Wyeth’s haunting painting Christina’s World is imagined in Kline’s (Orphan Train) intriguing novel. The artist meets Christina Olson in 1939 when he summers near her home in Cushing, Maine, introduced by Betsy James, the young woman who knew the Olsons and would become Wyeth’s wife. The story is told from Christina’s point of view, from the moment she reflects on the painting; it then goes back and forth through her history, from her childhood through the time that Wyeth painted at her family farm, using its environs and Christina and her brother as subjects. First encountering Christina as a middle-aged woman, Wyeth saw something in her that others did not. Their shared bond of physical infirmity (she had undiagnosed polio; he had a damaged right foot and bad hip) enables her to open up about her family and her difficult life, primarily as a shut-in, caring for her family, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and doing laundry—all without electricity and despite her debilitating disease. Hope of escape, when her teacher offers her the chance to take her place, was summarily quashed by her father. Her first and only romance with a summer visitor from Boston has an ignoble end when he marries someone in his social class. Through it all, the author’s insightful, evocative prose brings Christina’s singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life. -Publisher's Weekly
The real-life subject of an iconic work of art is given her own version of a canvas—space in which to reveal her tough personality, bruised heart, and "artist's soul." The figure at the center of Andrew Wyeth's celebrated painting Christina's World has her back to the viewer, but Kline (Orphan Train, 2013, etc.) turns her to face the reader, simultaneously equipping her with a back story and a lyrical voice. Meet Christina Olson, "a middle-aged spinster" who narrates her life in segments, dodging back and forth between her origins and childhood and her adult life, all of this material rooted in the large Maine house built by her family, whose early members, relatives of Nathaniel Hawthorne, fled Salem in 1743. Born in 1893, Christina is a clever schoolgirl whose opportunity to train as a teacher will be obstructed by her parents, who need her to work at home. The progressive bone disease which makes mobility difficult and brings constant pain scarcely reduces her ceasel ess domestic workload. At age 20 she has one tantalizing chance at love, but after that Christina's horizons shrink until the day in 1939 when a friend introduces her to 22-year-old Andrew Wyeth. Christina, now 46, discovers a kindred spirit and Wyeth, a kind of muse whom he will paint several times. Kline lovingly evokes the restricted life of a sensitive woman forced to renounce the norms of intimacy and self-advancement while using her as a lens to capture the simple beauty of the American farming landscape: "The flat nails that secure the weather clapboards, the drip of water from the rusty cistern, cold blue light through a cracked window." It's thin on plot, but Kline's reading group-friendly novel delivers a character portrait that is painterly, sensuous, and sympathetic. -Kirkus Reviews
Looking for even more information about Andrew Wyeth or his painting, Christina's World? Check out this extended bibliography by Clemson University student, Jan Comfort.