“To get it all done I have to dim my brain, turn it down by notches like the flat-turn knob on a gas lantern, leaving only a nub of flame.”
I received A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline in my April Novel Editions box, themed Sweet Spring. With that said, I am somewhat familiar with Christina’s work, as I read one of the other novels, Orphan Train, last year.
A Piece of the World is based off a real painting called Christina’s World, painted by Andrew Wyeth. I had never heard of this painting before, but as luck would have it they included a print of it in the back of the book. I highly recommend you really look at it before you begin reading. It will make the book better this way. You can actually see most of it in the image covering this blog post.
This book is, as its title suggests, a slice of life novel. It is a simple book, without the grandiose battles and twisting plotlines I see so often. There is nothing wrong with these grandiose battles, of course, but it is certainly a refreshing change to step away from all of that for a little while.
As you know, this book is inspired by a famous American painting. It focuses on the life of one Christina Olson, whose entire life has been, up to this point, her family’s farm in Cushing, Maine. It is certainly the setting for an idyllic life, but of course, nothing can be that way in a novel. Thus, Christina is plagued by a mysterious illness (which sounds a lot like polio, or what I know of it anyway) causing her many problems throughout her life. Similar to her previous novel, Orphan Train, this one also flips back and forth in time as well as merges fact with fiction, revealing forgotten slices of history. I kind of want to keep the rest a secret, but as you can guess her life does not turn out to be so small after all, since she does become the subject of a painting.
I will admit at first the book did not intrigue me much. It seemed to be lacking something. But then there was a moment, around the halfway point I think, though I cannot be sure, where everything just fell into place for me. I cannot reveal too much for fear of spoiling things for you, but this moment definitely made me connect quite strongly to Christina Olson. It was kind of like one of those punch in the gut moments for me, in that it came all at once. After that point I was pretty much devouring the book. The language, though not perfect, really fit with the book. The actions of the characters made sense to me, and I did feel real emotion for some of them during the last half of the book. I definitely think the author’s writing is quality and, though I may not return to this book soon (there are so many others I want to read, after all), I think this one definitely has a place on shelf for a while.
I would definitely recommend A Piece of the World if you are looking for something tamer than fantasy novels with grandiose battles and twisting plots. It is a great choice for those interested in historical fiction in any way. Should you choose to read it, let me know what you think! Was there a particular highlight for you? What illness do you think Christina had? Any other thoughts? Leave them in the comments!
Title: A Piece of the World
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: William Morrow