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A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

KlinePieceI really enjoyed this novel, as I did Kline’s last book, the wildly popular Orphan Train. As she did with Orphan Train, the author pays meticulous attention to historic detail, and she writes in an engaging writing style that makes her new book hard to put down.

The book focuses on the famous Andrew Wyeth painting, Christina’s World, one of the best known works of the 20th century and part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The inspiration for the painting was Christina Olson, who was born in 1893. She was Wyeth’s neighbor, and she was his muse. In fact, he claimed an upstairs room in her family’s farmhouse to do sketches for the painting, completing most of the final work there. In the painting, Christina’s face is turned away, inviting the viewer to wonder who she was.

Olson grew up on her family’s farm in the remote coastal town of Cushing, Maine. It was a bleak existence; the land had been in the family since 1743, and adjoining acreage had been sold off over the years as family fortunes dwindled. At the age of 3, Christina developed a high fever that left her legs damaged. A brilliant student, she was asked to continue her education so that she could take over as the school’s head teacher, but her father refused to let her. He forced his daughter to stay on the farm and do arduous farm chores despite her physical limitations. As a young woman, Christina was courted by a college man who ultimately broke her heart. But she fought her way through life, refusing to be a victim of her circumstances.

Kline includes a picture of Christina’s World in the book, making it easy to refer to the painting as the process of creating the work is described. This is an author who takes the term historic fiction very seriously. She did an enormous amount of research into both Christina Olsen and Andrew Wyeth, and has written an engaging story that weaves fact and fiction together beautifully. 

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