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A Piece of the World Hardcover – 23 Mar 2017
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‘A moving portrait of a woman in search of autonomy and purpose in her life’ SUNDAY TIMES CULTURE
‘The novel evokes the sombre grace of those paintings in language as earnest and straightforward as Wyeth’s brush strokes, laying out a story as uncomplicated as his composition’ NEW YORK TIMES
‘A transporting peek behind the canvas’ NEW YORK MAGAZINE
‘A graceful, moving and powerful demonstration of what can happen when a fearless literary imagination combines with an inexhaustible curiosity about the past and the human heart: a feat of time travel, a bravura improvisation on the theme of art history, a wonderful story that seems to have been waiting, all this time, for Christina Baker Kline to come along and tell it’ MICHAEL CHABON
‘Christina Baker Kline writes about home and place with wisdom and tenderness, but most of all she writes about Christina Olson with compassion, empathy and resounding admiration. This is an inspiring, haunting, powerful novel’ HELEN SEDGWICK, author of The Comet Seekers
‘An affecting and memorable novel… unexpected and bleakly beautiful world. I thought it explored the nature of art and inspiration in a fascinating way, whilst also posing profound questions about what endures and what proves transitory; about the roles we choose and those which are forced upon us’ MATTHEW PLAMPIN, author of Will & Tom
‘With remarkable precision and compassion, A PIECE OF THE WORLD transports us to a mid-century farmhouse on the coast of Maine … Christina Baker Kline has accomplished something grand’ NATHAN HILL, author of The Nix
‘Tender, tragic, A PIECE OF THE WORLD is a fascinating exploration of the life lived inside that house at the top of the hill’ LILY KING
‘Painterly, sensuous, and sympathetic’ KIRKUS REVIEWS
‘A pure, powerful story of suffering met with a fight’ O Magazine (The Oprah Magazine)
‘Insightful, evocative prose brings Christina’s singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life’ PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
About the Author
Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train. Her other novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines, and Sweet Water
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Until reading Christina Baker Kline’s note at the end of the book, it is impossible to guess that it is based on real people, although, admittedly, it is a little strange to name the main character after oneself. In fact, A Piece of the World is written around a single painting in the Museum of Modern Art, New York: Christina’s World (1948) by Andrew Wyeth, a man who appears and paints this work in the story.
Baker Cline researched thoroughly into the background story of the painting. Christina Olson, the main character of this book, was a real person who posed for Wyeth as he painted this striking picture. Although the overall story is a work of fiction, the dates and key characters are biographically accurate. Beginning in 1939, the narrative weaves too and fro, from Christina’s present day to her childhood and back again. Christina is an ageing woman who can barely walk and lives in a dilapidated cottage with her brother on a hill in the village of Cushing, Maine. Having lived in this state for so long, it is a welcome surprise to be visited by the young Andrew Wyeth who falls in love with the cottage and regularly comes to work on his canvases in their upper rooms. Through their peaceful relationship and flashbacks to her past, Christina’s character development is investigated and knitted together to explain why she has become this recluse on a hill.
Christina had problems from a very young age. After almost dying from a fever, she developed an undiagnosed degenerative disease that slowly ate away at the nerves in her arms and legs. Today, neurologists believe this to be Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease but there were no doctors able to provide this diagnosis at the time. Christina suffered aches and pains growing up and could barely walk in a straight line. Her determination to keep going is admirable and makes her a strong female protagonist.
One day in her early twenties, Christina meets a boy who pays her the kind of attention that she has never received before. Believing his promises that they will be together forever, she dares to dream of having a normal life. The reader, however, knows that the future Christina is alone with only her brother for company, making it heartbreaking to read of their developing romance knowing that it is not going to last.
There is no “happy-ever-after” to this story, nor is there a sad ending. It is an account of a woman who had been dealt a raw deal in life but continued getting on despite it. The end result, the painting Christina’s World, shows Christina as she sees herself. She may not be able to walk but she is still a woman; she made the most of her childhood, she never complained. This painting is her “letter to the World that never wrote to [Her].”
A Piece of the World is a powerful novel about purpose and determination. Christina may not have had a typical, successful life or become famous but she had her daily achievements: crawling through a field for an hour to visit a friend, cooking dinners despite not being able to stand up, carrying on after the end of a romantic relationship …
Written as gracefully as the brushstrokes of a painting with elements of Emily Dickinson thrown in here and there, A Piece of the World is a beautiful piece of work. It is something that can be enjoyed as you are mentally drawn into the storyline, leaving you wondering what happens to Christina and her brother after the completion of the painting. It is a novel the author can be proud of.
Sometimes a sanctuary, sometimes a prison, that house on the hill has always been my home. I’ve spent my life yearning toward it, wanting to escape it, paralyzed by its hold on me. (There are many ways to be crippled, I’ve learned over the years, many forms of paralysis.) … You can never escape the bonds of family history, no matter how far you travel. And the skeleton of a house can carry in its bones the marrow of all that came before.
It is a terrible thing to find the love of your life, Christina… You know too well what you’re missing when it’s gone.
The day we bury her is dreary: a colorless sky, gray-boned trees, old sooty snow. Winter, I think, must be tired of itself.
… I put my hand over his, and he lays his other hand over mine. I feel the way I do when I lose something – a spool of thread, say – and search for it everywhere, only to discover it in an obvious place, like on the sideboard under the cloth.
This was my first exposure to Christina Baker Kline’s talents and I became an instant devotee. The writing was emotive and often tinged with melancholy, lushly descriptive, thoughtfully observant, cunningly crafted, and intricately detailed. A fascinating mix of fact and fiction, I have since spent far too much time Googling Christina Olson and Andrew Wyeth’s iconic artwork. I was immediately immersed in this beautifully and insightfully written book from the first person POV of Christina, a girl/woman with few options and limited mobility. Christina lived her entire life in the same house with her slightly odd family in small-town rural Maine and had continued to live under extremely harsh conditions without indoor plumbing, running water, or electricity, long after others in her area were enjoying these luxuries.
Christina was possibly the most obstinate woman of her time. Unsteady on her weak limbs following an life-threatening and undiagnosed illness at the age of three, she despised pity, denied most offers of assistance despite frequent mishaps and injuries from falls, refused to seek medical assistance when offered, and in her later years when her legs were no longer of use to her she steadfastly refused to use a wheelchair and drug herself by her elbows, up and down stairs and even across fields to visit her neighbor. I ached for her and wanted to pop her in the back of the head at the same time for her stubborn pride.
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