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A Piece of the World

A Piece of the World

4.5 2
by Christina Baker Kline

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"Graceful, moving and powerful.”

--Michael Chabon, New York Times bestselling author of Moonglow

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the smash bestseller Orphan Train, a stunning and atmospheric novel of



"Graceful, moving and powerful.”

--Michael Chabon, New York Times bestselling author of Moonglow

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.

This edition includes a four-color reproduction of Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Becky Aikman
The novel evokes the somber grace of [Wyeth's] paintings in language as earnest and straightforward as Wyeth's brush strokes, laying out a story as uncomplicated as his composition. Both painter and writer have a fine-grained feel for the setting, and both would seem to reject the irony, humor and abstraction of modernity. Christina's yearning, her determination, her will to dream, occupy the emotional center in both the novel and the painting.
Publishers Weekly
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. (Feb.)
Nathan Hill
With remarkable precision and compassion, A PIECE OF THE WORLD transports us to a mid-century farmhouse on the coast of Maine. But just like the painting that inspired it, this gorgeous novel is about so much more. Heartbreaking and life-affirming.”
San Diego Union-Tribune
“A novel about not just art, but family and home — things that last, and what it takes for them to do so.”
New York Times Book Review
“The novel evokes the somber grace of [Wyeth’s] paintings … Christina’s yearning, her determination, her will to dream, occupy the emotional center in both the novel and the painting. A PIECE OF THE WORLD is a story for those who want the mysterious made real.”
“Another winner from the author of Orphan Train. In this beautifully observed fictional memoir, Kline uses Andrew Wyeths’ iconic painting Christina’s World as the taking-off point for a moving portrait of the artist’s real-life muse. Book of the week.”
USA Today
“Fans of Kline’s phenomenal 2013 best seller Orphan Train will recognize the way the new novel...brings to vivid life a little-known corner of history...Avoiding sentimental uplift, A Piece of the World offers unsparing insight into the real woman behind the painting.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Like Wyeth’s paintings, this is a vivid novel about hardscrabble lives and prairie grit and the seemingly small but significant beauties found there.”
Portland Tribune (Oregan)
“The novel provides gorgeous, complicated answers to all the questions the painting stirs, beginning with the day a young painter appears on her porch. Kline has created a memorable and unforgettable voice for Anna Christina Olson, the girl in the field.”
Portland Press Herald
“Absorbing...A portrait of Maine farm life, of an iron-willed spinster with polio and the accidental friendship that changes everything...Kline has a graceful, arresting style that lifts the narrative, and her portrayal of Andy leavens the entire story.”
Historical Novel Society
“With delicate palette, stark images, subtle tones, nuanced brushstrokes, and consummate craftsmanship, Christina Baker Kline has written this novel the way Andrew Wyeth painted the canvas. It is a masterpiece.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Kline herself is an artist, drawing on the real history of Christina Olson and Andrew Wyeth to conjure up her own haunting portrait.... Kline’s deep research into characters, place, and time period provides the outlines of a compelling story, which she then expertly brings into three dimensions.”
Daily Beast
“With beautiful and stunning prose, the novel explores the sensitive and complex bond between artist and muse against the beauty of the rural American landscape.”
Sydney Morning Herald
“Kline’s portrait of her main character is moving in an unsentimental way as she evokes the New England landscape, the torment of crippling disease, and the piece of history embodied in Olson’s story.”
“Superb...The beauty of Kline’s writing and her grasp of her characters is such that at first you want to sink into this book like a warm bath....Gentle and profound, A Piece of the World shows the healing power of simple, unexpected friendship.”
Marie Claire
“Artfully (pun intended) inspired by the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World.”
Michael Chabon
“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.”
Lily King
“The inscrutable figure in the foreground of Wyeth’s Christina’s World is our American Mona Lisa, and Christina Baker Kline has pulled back the veil to imagine her rich story. Tender [and] tragic.”
Erik Larson
“A brilliantly imagined fictional memoir of the woman in the famed Wyeth painting ‘Christina’s World,’ so detailed, moving, and utterly transportive that I’ll never be able to look at the painting again without thinking of this book and the characters who populate its pages.”
Real Simple
“A gorgeous read.”
O: the Oprah Magazine
“Who has not gazed on Wyeth’s picture and wondered, why does that girl have so very far to go?... A pure, powerful story of suffering met with a fight. In fiction, in her quiet way, Christina triumphs—and so does this novel.”
“Readers will savor the quotidian details that compose Christina’s ‘quiet country life.’ Orphan Train was a best-seller and popular book-discussion choice, so expect demand.”-
Library Reads
“Fantastic and touching.”
the Oprah Magazine O
“Who has not gazed on Wyeth’s picture and wondered, why does that girl have so very far to go?... A pure, powerful story of suffering met with a fight. In fiction, in her quiet way, Christina triumphs--and so does this novel.”
Library Journal
★ 02/01/2017
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. VERDICT Kline expertly captures the essence of Wyeth's iconic masterpiece and its real-life subject, crafting a moving work of historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA
School Library Journal
Applying her research from writing her best seller Orphan Train as well as her own experiences growing up in Maine, Kline has created an authentic portrayal of Christina Olson, the real-life inspiration for Christina's World, one of Andrew Wyeth's most iconic paintings. Wyeth and his young wife summered near the Olson homestead between the 1930s and 1960s, and he often used Olson and her brother as models in his work. In this novel, Christina's story is told in first person and includes flashbacks to help readers better understand how differently her life might have turned out if not for her circumstances. Christina and her brother Al sacrifice chances of finding true love and, in her case, the opportunity to become a teacher, because they have to keep the family farm running and care for their ailing parents. Day-to-day survival with no electricity in rural Maine is described in vivid detail. Such an unforgiving environment would be challenging enough for someone able-bodied but was far more difficult for Christina, who had a painful degenerative disease that eventually made it impossible for her to walk. Her struggles are portrayed in Christina's World, where she is shown dragging herself across a field. Thoughtful teens who appreciate literary fiction will find Christina's pragmatism and pride admirable. VERDICT Fans of historical fiction or those wanting to know more about this period of Andrew Wyeth's life will not want to miss this inspirational slice of history.—Sherry Mills, Hazelwood East High School, St. Louis
Kirkus Reviews
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 ceaseless 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.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels. She lives outside of New York City and on the coast of Maine.

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A Piece of the World: A Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 8 months ago
An engaging character study that drew me in with its hardy New England challenges and for me, raised questionning about the balance between mere survival and the life well~lived.
LAMartinez 3 months ago
At our book club meeting last night, a question was posed about how we view ourselves through other people's eyes. I once wrote about labels and how obsessed our society is about confining us to our assumed roles and identities. We even put ourselves in debt trying to fit into these assumptions by driving the "best" cars, and making sure we were in a "better" neighborhood, and ensuring our children have the "best" education by enrolling them only in the "highly esteemed" private schools. Labels follow us where we are in life. Christina Olson had labels following her: a sick child, the dutiful daughter, the spinster. I'm sure there are other "colorful" labels that I can put on her but one thing about this woman, and her seemingly sad existence were her choices (or lack, thereof) that led up to a fateful meeting with artist Andrew Wyeth. In our life, we demand a few things, and one of them is to be known. It doesn't necessarily have to be to the world, but to be known to the people around us. In our everyday, we put up fences around ourselves, and pretend we're better than we believe, and cast on different roles to change the labels people already had assigned us. What if someone takes all of our pretentiousness, or looks past at our ordinary and sees us. Sees us the way we can only hope to be. And in Andrew, Christina becomes one thing - a story; a painting with layers of wisdom, hurts, regrets, suffering. Her life isn't a blank canvas as much as it's a history lesson. I've never read any of Christina Baker Kline's work but after this, I'm going to pick up a few more. This was moving, and in her descriptions, I was there at the farm, looking on at the sky, the dilapidated house, the sea, the woman with her back turned to me. in her words, I walk into the Olson home, see the lessons written in pictures, in old chests, in seashells, and forget about the labels I put on this woman in the famous painting, but take in all that is her. Through both Kline and Wyeth's eyes, Christina is not only seen and known, but we, the reader and art patrons are given a glimpse and a piece of (her) world.