Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Fiction Review: A Piece of the World

I read and enjoyed Christina Baker Kline's novel Orphan Train a few years ago for a book group, so I was excited to hear that book had been chosen as our All-County Reads book for 2018, and that Kline would be coming to town in April for an author talk (these are fun events, and I try to go every year). I had heard that her new novel, A Piece of the World, was based on a painting, and although I know next to nothing about art, the artist, Andrew Wyeth, is from our area, which added some local interest for me. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this historical novel that tells the fictionalized story behind the subject of the painting Christina's World.

The novel opens in 1939, with Christina working on a quilt in her old family farmhouse in coastal Maine when she first meets the painter Andrew Wyeth, who is dating her young friend, Betsy, and wants to paint a picture of her house. Christina and her brother, Alvero, live in the big farmhouse on their own now, both in their 40's. In the next chapter, the timeline jumps back to 1896, when Christina was a small girl living in the same house with Al, their parents, and her beloved grandmother. There was something wrong with Christina's legs (possibly polio?) and she was in constant pain, but she was frightened of being sent away from home and so refused medical help when her parents suggested it. She adapted to life with a pronounced limp and chronic pain and learned to get by. Meanwhile, additional brothers were born, her grandmother eventually died, and Christina grew up in the house.

The story moves back and forth from the present (in the 1940's) to the past, gradually building the story of Christina's life as a child, teenager, and later, an adult. There is love, tragedy, pain, and the simple pleasures and hard work of rural life. In the present, Christina gradually gets to know Andrew as her house becomes his favorite place to paint when he's in the area each summer (he lives the rest of the year here near us, in Chadd's Ford, PA). Kline provides details in both time periods that paint a vivid picture of life at that time, through two world wars and countless other events, both big and small, that affect Christina's life. Against the historical backdrop, we follow the highs and lows - and mainly the small everyday struggles and joys - of Christina's life, which is not easy, even when things are going well. Eventually, the story leads to Wyeth making the famous painting of the house with Christina in the foreground (see below). The audio book was captivating (you can listen to a sample below), feeling as though Christina herself is telling you her story. Building on both historical facts and creative fiction, Kline has created a moving, distinct story of one strong woman whose life was forever captured in a painting.
Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth
352 pages, William Morrow Paperbacks

A brief summary of the fascinating historical background of Andrew's meeting of Betsy and Christina and the paintings he made of them.

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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Listen to a sample of the audio book A Piece of the World (of the scene when Christina meets Andrew Wyeth for the first time)

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  1. The concept of a book bringing to life the subject of a painting is such a clever idea!

    1. I agree! Even though I'm not much into art (just don't know much about it), I was intrigued by the local connection, plus i really enjoyed Orphan Train. This one is definitely a unique approach!