Summary and book reviews of A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

A Piece of the World

A Novel

by Christina Baker Kline

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2017, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 30, 2018, 384 pages

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Book Summary

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the smash hit 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.

1939

I'm working on a quilt patch in the kitchen on a brilliant July afternoon, small squares of fabric and a pincushion and scissors on the table beside me, when I hear the hum of a car engine. Looking out the window toward the cove, I see a station wagon turn into the field about a hundred yards away. The engine cuts off and the passenger door swings open and Betsy James gets out, laughing and exclaiming. I haven't seen her since last summer. She's wearing a white halter top and denim shorts, a red bandanna tied around her neck. As I watch her coming toward the house, I am struck by how different she looks. Her sweet round face has thinned and lengthened; her chestnut hair is long and thick around her shoulders, her eyes dark and shining.

A red slash of lipstick. I think of her at nine years old, when she first came to visit, her small, nimble fingers braiding my hair as she sat behind me on the stoop. And here she is, seventeen and suddenly a woman.

"Hey ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Christina Olson's life is limited by her parents, her illness, and the realities of a rural life in the first half of the 20th century. But she does make decisions that affect the course of her life. What are some of the major consequences of Christina's choices? Which choices did you agree with, and with which did you disagree?
  2. Consider Christina's relationship with her parents and her relationship with Mamey. What does Mamey offer Christina that her parents do not? What are the limitations of that relationship? How do Christina's brothers have different relationships with both Mamey and their parents?
  3. How do the poems of Emily Dickinson engage with the themes of this novel?
  4. How might Christina's life have ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I highly recommend adding A Piece of the World to the must-read list of avid readers of historical fiction, and especially to book clubs. Discussion topics abound!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (645 words).

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Media Reviews

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.

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.

O, the Oprah Magazine

Kline's gift is to dispense with the fustiness and fact-clogged drama that can weigh down some historical novels to tell a pure, powerful story of suffering met with a fight. In fiction, in her quiet way, Christina triumphs - and so does this novel.

Publishers Weekly

[Kline’s] insightful, evocative prose brings Christina’s singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life.

Kirkus Reviews

A character portrait that is painterly, sensuous, and sympathetic.

People

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.

Author Blurb (Nathan Hill, author of The Nix
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.

Author Blurb Rita Maggio at BookTowne, Manasquan, NJ
It is the unfolding of a masterpiece in hands of a beautiful writer.

Author Blurb Beth Carpenter of Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
Kline has written another blockbuster of an historical novel, this time about Christina Olson, the subject of one of Andrew Wyeth's iconic paintings. I loved this novel and know readers everywhere will, too.

Author Blurb Karen Bakshoain of Letterpress Books, Portland, M
Beautiful art writing with an elegant ending – I feel like I visited with these characters myself, had tea with them, suffered their physical hardships and dreamed their dreams.

Author Blurb Cheryl Perrino of Nonesuch Books, South Portland, ME
It is my favorite of the year!

Reader Reviews

Cindy Dubinski

Christina's Back Story
Learn something about the place that inspired one of Andrew Wyeth's most haunting works, Christina's World. Understanding the back story of this woman and the isolation of her home situation increases my appreciation for the emotions of the painting...   Read More

Shirley F

Christine's world
I loved this book and the way the author developed the character of Christine Olsen - the focus of a painting by Andrew Wyeth. Christine suffered from a debilitating illness as a young child which affected her ability to walk. She attended a one ...   Read More

Cathy M. (Milwaukee, WI)

Christina's World
A Piece of the World is the story of Christina and how she becomes memorialized in Andrew Wyeth's famous painting, Christina's World. Christina has a degenerative condition, and at the end of the book she mostly just crawls. She can be compared to ...   Read More

Jean N. (New Richmond, OH)

Christina's World
After reading this quiet thoughtful book, I felt like I had a new understanding of Wyeth's famous painting and the woman who inspired it. Christina's World is a seamless blend of fact and fiction. I loved the description of rural Maine in this ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Christina's World

Christina's WorldAndrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World, the subject of A Piece of the World, was initially met with little fanfare, and its critical reception was lackluster. Nevertheless, the painting, which features Christina Olson reaching toward her home in the distance, was purchased during its first showing at a New York Gallery in 1948 by Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Today it is one of MoMA's most admired exhibits and has become a well-known representation of American art. The painting has been loaned out only once since its purchase when it was shown for two days in 2009 at Chadds Ford, PA, Wyeth's hometown, in memoriam of the artist.

The Olson House, which is featured in many of Wyeth's paintings, ...

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