Immortalized in Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World, in which she crawls across a field toward her family’s Maine farmhouse, Christina Olson lived a quiet, private life. She was hampered and eventually crippled by a degenerative muscular disease, but insisted on living independently (with the help of her brother, Alvaro) for as long as she could. Christina Baker Kline delves into Christina’s story – her razor-sharp mind, her stubborn family, her fierce pride, the degenerative disease that eventually stole her mobility – in her sixth novel, A Piece of the World.
I’ve been fascinated by the recent trend of novels exploring the interior lives of historical characters, such as Georgia O’Keeffe in Dawn Tripp’s Georgia and Beryl Markham in Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun (both of which we’ve reviewed here at Great New Books). I knew something about each of those women previously, but I’d never heard of Christina Olson before I read this book. I found myself totally swept up in her world, which is small in scale–a remote corner of Maine–but vivid, compelling and beautiful in its own way. Baker Kline’s narrative shifts back and forth in time between Christina’s childhood, her teenage years, and the time in the late 1930s when Andrew Wyeth showed up at their farmhouse with his fiancée Betsy James, befriended Christina and Al, and began to paint their world.
Christina, with keen powers of observation and completely without self-pity, shares the details of her life with readers: geraniums “splayed red like a magician’s handkerchief,” the sweep of the sea beyond the fields of her family’s farm. She relays her family’s seafaring history, her own love for Emily Dickinson’s poetry, the ill-fated love affair with a summer visitor who eventually stopped writing back. And she delights–cautiously at first–in her friendship with Andy, the young artist who finds himself drawn back again and again to the humble Olson farmhouse.
Luminous, lovely and nourishing, A Piece of the World is a beautiful glimpse into a quietly extraordinary life, and a meditation on what it means to be truly seen.
Have you read A Piece of the World? We’d love to hear what you think — please share in the comments below. Thanks!
Link to buy A Piece of the World at your local independent bookstore (we love them!) or at Indiebound by clicking here.