Book Pairings

This Is Your Life, Harriett Chance & Barefoot Bubbly Brute Cuvee or Gifft Pinot Noir Rose

this is your lifeThis is Your Life, Harriet Chance! – Jonathan Evison. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2015.

This is your life, Harriet! Over the course of this book Jonathan Evison mimics the voice of 1950’s reality show host Ralph Edwards who treated Hollywood celebrities to a retrospective look at their lives, complete with appearances from family, coworkers and friends.

In this story Harriet is visited by people who take her on a trip down memory lane, sharing some of their deep secrets along the way. She is transported from her home in Seattle where, at the age of 78, she shops for bran cereal and takes calcium supplements, to her 20s when she aspired to become a legal eagle like her father, back to a childhood where she watched the Bacchus style partying of her parents, and through those difficult years of raising two children while her husband seemed to be forever traveling for work.

First to join her on her trips is her loving husband, Bernard. Yes, she knows he is now dead after a slow battle with dementia, but somehow here he is! It was a solid marriage, thinks Harriet, where for 50 years her daily routine was: “Eat what Bernard eats, vote how Bernard votes, love how Bernard loves and ultimately learn to want out of life what Bernard wants out of life.” What she didn’t realize was that Bernard was unfaithful to her on those business trips for more than 40 years. Forty years! Imagine that! And she didn’t have a clue!

The fact that she is now on an all-expenses-paid Alaskan cruise that Bernard purchased might be one hint of the secrets he kept from her because Harriett certainly never expressed an interest in visiting Alaska. The truth is Bernard bought the trip for himself and his mistress, so no wonder Harriett feels a bit unstable as she stares out a porthole at a little harbor wher cre “cruisers gawk and gander and graze, clutching digital cameras and street maps, their sweatshirts emblazoned with moose and grizzly bears.” She wasn’t supposed to be here!

Joining Bernard on stage are her two loving children Skip and Caroline. Of course, she’s happy to see Skip. He’s her favorite. Everybody knows that, especially his younger sister Caroline. Might that be why she was such a difficult child who now, as a middle-aged adult, still battles a drinking problem and can’t seem to hold a job? Could she have known for all those years that she would never measure up to adorable Skip? Or does Harriett have a deeper secret of her own, one that perhaps may explain why Caroline was never close to her father? And Skip, well, perhaps there’s more to him too, like why he is so eager for Harriett to move into Sunny Acres, a senior care facility, and sign over to him the deed to her house. Might his loving concern be more self-interest?

Jonathan Evison goes back in time for the next guest, Uncle Charlie. No, he’s not really Harriett’s uncle but her father’s law partner, yet Charlie always insisted on a more, shall I say, personal relationship with Harriett. Starting from childhood, he liked to get her alone and flatter her, and hug her, and encourage her to come to him at any time for help, for advice, for companionship. There was that one time when she was working late and found herself alone with Uncle Charlie. That’s a secret Harriett has worked hard to conceal.

Finally there’s Mildred, Harriett’s best friend, who was supposed to join her on this voyage. Through the years, Harriett shared all her hopes and wishes and dreams with Mildred. She was Harriett’s faithful friend, kind and considerate. Wonder why she backed out of the cruise? Might she have a secret of her own? Perhaps she will write a letter for Harriett to read once she’s safely in her cabin. After all, what happens on the boat stays on the boat!

So here is Harriet at 78, still following her elders’ advice: “Just be a good woman, and bear the load life hands you. Put on some lipstick and live a little. And order another martini while you’re at it.” But Harriett has to wonder: has she become all that she could have been in life? Between the lines of this glibly written story, Evison shows compassion for his central character and allows the reader to wonder: Am I all that different from Harriett? Have I become all that I once aspired to be?

My Wine Recommendations

barefoot_bubbly_brut_bottleGIFFT pinot roseSince Harriett is traveling on the Carnival Cruise Line, I recommend Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee from the basic wine package. This sparkling wine from California is crisp and lively just like Harriett and pairs nicely with late night buffets! ($9) If she goes for the wine package, then she would enjoy a 2016 Gafft Pinot Noir Rose from the estate of Kathy Lee Gifford in Monterey, CA. Since Harriett is adventuresome (just like Kathy) she should order a bottle delivered to her room with a cheese and fruit board. What fun! ($15)

 

 

Book Pairing: The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty & Ouled Thaleb Shrah

Diver's ClothesThe Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida. New York: Harper Collins, 2015.

You may know the feeling: You arrive in a foreign country after a long, uncomfortable flight. As you accept the complementary drink the flight attendant pours, you fantasize about the man seated across from you. Perhaps you will meet him for dinner one evening and compare notes over a refreshing drink in Rick’s Bar.

The fantasy disappears as you leave the plane, still half asleep from the sleeping table you swallowed with your second glass of wine. As you start the long walk to baggage claim, you feel jetlagged, disoriented, perhaps wonder what made this trip so appealing two months ago when you booked it. You look with judging eyes on a woman who seems unable to stop the shrieks of her child. All you want is deep sleep.

You arrive at your hotel, tip your driver in American dollars, and present your passport and a credit card to the front desk. You return these items to your carry-on. Your body aches for a cold drink, a warm shower and a comfortable bed. But when you reach down to pick up your carry-on, you realize the worse has happened: Your bag is gone – the bag containing your passport, your money, your phone, your camera and your computer. In short everything that contains your identity is now missing. You don’t even have the local currency to make a phone call.

What do you do?

This is the dilemma that begins The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, a what-if novel that traces the actions of an unnamed narrator who arrives in Casablanca and finds that in order to survive, she must reinvent herself. Written in second person (you), Vida takes the reader moment by moment through the nerve-wracking, suspense-laden thoughts and actions of the narrator. Like most travelers, the narrator first tries to go through proper channels (i.e. the police) to recover her stolen property. But when the chief of police declares the crime solved and, “like a blackjack dealer giving you his last card”, thrusts a bag with a passport of another woman into her arms, she realizes that “extreme circumstances require radical change.”

The narrator assumes this new identity and begins a Kafkaesque lifestyle of altered identities, first as the woman in the passport whose credit card affords her a much-needed hotel upgrade, then as a stand-in for a “famous American actress” who is filming on location in Casablanca, and later as a reporter following a political candidate deeper into Morocco. With each twist of the plot, the narrator reveals what has driven her from her home in Florida and made her so willing to embrace a new identity.

It is a deep secret, a sadness that propels her further and further into the harsh, unforgiven Moroccan landscape. And in her head are the constant cries of a baby and the deceptive eyes of her sister.

The book’s title comes from a Rumi poem about feeling both present and absent in life, being in the ocean while at the same time dressed in the clothes on the shore, feeling hunted and a hunter. The theme is underscored by the landscape – the blinding sunlight, the exotic scents, the crowded shops, the labyrinth streets, the staggering heat – producing a story that is both entertaining and disturbing.

My Wine Recommendation

oulet_thaleb_syrah_mv_750Such an exotic book requires an equally exotic wine like the 2012 Ouled Thaleb Shrah from Morocco. This bright red has flavors of cherry and pomegranate with a luscious finish of orange zest. Wine experts give it high points for its balance of smoky, spicy and fruity notes. $16.

 

Book Pairing: The Book of Strange New Things & Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon

strange new thingsThe Book of Strange New Things – Michael Faber. New York: Penguin Random House, 2015.

When Peter meets Beatrice, it seems a match made in heaven. She is a nurse, trained to heal broken bodies; he is an addict with not only a broken body but also a broken spirit. Like Dante’s Beatrice, she heals him, falls in love with him and converts him to Christianity; he gets sober and with her help starts a church in a low-income neighborhood in London.

Several years later they have a chance of a lifetime – to serve as missionaries to a settlement named Oasis on a remote planet being colonized by USIC, an American-based corporation. He gets selected for the mission; she does not. He leaves for a six-month adventure spreading the word of Christ to the native inhabitants; she is charged with keeping the home fires burning while the world around her falls apart. Soon both of them experience the ultimate test of their love and faith.

Yes, Michael Faber’s most recent novel The Book of Strange New Things is science fiction, but like many writers of this genre, his focus is less on the science behind colonizing another galaxy than using a scientific premise to examine the effects that separation and alienation can have on relationships and core beliefs.

He sets the novel in the near future with references to popular magazines and news events and spends little time on explaining how humans arrived on Oasis (it’s simply called “the jump”). By eliminating a lot of the sci-fi elements from the story, the reader is better able to identify with the main characters as they struggle to stay connected to one another and to the God they both love.

At first Peter is the one who has the harder task. Not only must he adjust to a different planet where daylight and darkness last for hundreds of hours, water tastes like melons and the humid atmosphere makes you move like an underwater creature, he shares nothing in common with the other USIC employees. They want nothing from him or his religion and treat him as an amusing outsider. In contrast, the natives treat him like the second coming. To Peter’s surprise, the majority of them have already been converted by a previous minister and refer to themselves as Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Fifty-two, Jesus Lover Seventy-eight, etc. They simply want someone to teach them more about what they call the Technique of Jesus, especially the stories where Jesus heals the sick.

So like the Biblical Peter, he throws his energies into building them a church with a steeple and translating Biblical passages into language they can understand. He dresses like them, sleeps with them and works in the fields with them. In fact, the more time he spends with them, the more alienated he becomes from the people at basecamp and life back on earth. As he tells his flock, “I never went to Bible School. I went to the University of Hard Drinking and Drug Abuse. Got my degree in Toilet Bowl Interior Decoration.” Over time he becomes disoriented, emaciated, and disconnected. Like the addict he was before, his addiction now is to them and his Bible, what the natives refer to as The Book of Strange New Things.

Peter’s only contact with earth is through emails exchanged with Beatrice whose letters are filled with her struggles in a world coming apart – corporate meltdowns, infrastructure collapse, tsunamis, earthquakes, rioting, destruction, total chaos. She also is pregnant and is fearful of bringing a child into such a world. Peter reads about her anguish, responds with encouraging Biblical passages, reassures her of his love, feels badly about the demise of society, but frankly would prefer that she not include such matters in her correspondences as they distract him from his mission.

“Nothing shall hurt you, said Luke. When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, said Isaiah. The Lord healeth all thy diseases, said the Psalms,” he writes to her. He might as well have told her to ‘keep on truckin’ as Beatrice reaches a breaking point. “Horrible, ghastly things in the news,” she writes. “I can’t bear to read, can’t bear to look.” She advises him to stay on Oasis forever because she has finally accepted that there is no God, at least not in her world.

In the end, Peter has a choice to make: to stay in a place of spiritual contentment or return to a world in chaos where the one person he loves the most desperately needs his help. In this way, he is a fictional Everyman whose faith is tested as all those about him question its very purpose. Faber’s writing pulls the reader into both characters’ dilemma. “Where is God in all this?” they ask themselves and one another. Where, indeed, we echo.

My Wine Recommendation

Chateau-Ste-Michelle-2013-Indian-Wells-Cabernet-SauvignonAlthough Peter is a recovering alcoholic, a good communion wine is ideal for this novel. With its low alcohol percentage and deep crimson color, I recommend Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a dark fruit aroma and flavor and pairs nicely with duck, lamb, veal, stuffed peppers and dark chocolate – just the sorts of foods you would crave if you were living in outer space. $20.

 

Book Pairing: When the Moon is Low & Biblia Chara Areti Red

when moon is lowWhen the Moon is Low – Nadia Hashimi. New York: Harper Collins, 2015

Since the Russian invasion of 1978, close to six million people have left their homes in Afghanistan to seek asylum. Currently, the country is the second largest refugee-producing nation in the world behind Syria. Many of these people flee to neighboring Pakistan and Iran, but others follow a trail through Turkey, Greece and Italy in hopes of joining family or gaining asylum in European countries like Germany or England. Some make it to safety and a better life; others die dreadful deaths or simply vanish along the way. All endure hardships.

When the Moon is Low is a story of one family’s journey to escape the ravages of the Taliban. It is not a book about politics and violence; it is rather a book about families and love. It begins with Fereiba, a baby whose birth caused the death of her mother. When her father remarries in order to have someone to care for his children, he chooses KokoGul – a woman who soon has four young daughters of her own and whose love is like “powdered sugar on burnt toast.” Like the wicked step-mother of fairy tales, KokoGul treats Fereiba as a servant – not allowing her to attend school or have any activities outside the home.

Finally when Fereiba is sixteen she persuades her father to allow her to attend school. She is smart; she becomes a teacher; she marries a suitable young man who is kind to her; they have three children. But then the Taliban arrive soon after the departure of the Russians. Her husband is taken, and Fereiba is left with nothing except a young daughter, a younger son and an infant with a heart condition.  She finally does what millions of others are doing – she sells everything and begins her journey to England where a younger sister lives. Guiding her like a star is her memory of a man who spoke to her one day as a young girl: “In the darkness, when you cannot see the ground under your feet and when your fingers touch nothing but night, you are not alone. I will stay with you as moonlight stays on water.” She believes this man is her guardian angel.

Village by village, step by step, Hashimi traces the family’s journey. They endure hardships, but they also encounter caring people like Hakan and Hayal Yilmaz who welcome them into their small home in a Turkish farming community. “I nearly sang out with joy when we laid our heads on soft pillows, our full bellies and the kindness of strangers keeping us warm,” says Fereiba. Her son finds work on a farm; his sister helps with housework; they procure medicine for the baby.

They could stay in this Turkish village, but their goal is England and family. They continue their journey. Soon they arrive in the port city of Izmir where they board a freighter to Athens. Here they experience the horror of migrant life. There is no asylum in Greece for refugees; there is no shelter or food or clothing or medicine. Hashimi vividly characterizes the plight of this family through the anguish of Fereiba: “I hold back my tears. I’ve had enough. I’m tired of being trapped. Each morning when I wake and find that nothing has changed, I think I am finished. Were it not for my children, I would be. For them I cannot be finished yet.”

The son, Saleem, a skinny teenager, takes on the mantel of family protector and finds them a room in a dilapidated hotel. “If we hide in a room every time we are nervous, we will never make it to England,” he bravely tells her as he hits the streets to steal food. But soon, their money is gone. They live in squalor, even sleeping at night in a playhouse in a park. Saleem is educated to the life of migrants from others who live on the streets. They warn him to avoid Pagani, the local detention center. “It is a cage,” they say. “Men, women and children go for days without stepping outside. There is no real asylum. You must have work to get asylum. So you need a work permit. And for a work permit, you must apply for asylum. You see the problem?”

Another guardian angel enters their lives in the form of Roksana, a young girl close in age to Saleem who is a volunteer with an aid organization. “The train is the best way to go,” she advises them. “In Europe they do not check for passports.” Fereiba gives her gold bracelets to Saleem to pawn so they can afford four tickets. These bracelets were placed on her mother’s wrists when her parents wed. Her father hid them until it was Fereiba’s time to marry. Without looking back on the life she has lost, she removes her bracelets and sends Saleem to the pawnshop. He never returns.

The last section of the book follows Saleem as he struggles to stay alive and reunite with his family. He lives like an animal relying on instinct.  He watches, he waits, he pounces when the opportunity is right. He also learns much about his homeland. “Afghanistan is a land of widows and widowers,” he realizes. “Orphans and the missing. Missing a right leg, a left hand, a child, or a mother. Everyone was missing something, as if a black hole had opened in the center of the country, sucking in bits and pieces of everyone into its hard belly.” He also learns much about Western countries that treat refugees as invisible. “Somewhere in the world, there must be a place where we will be welcomed as a long-lost sister,” prays Fereiba, “Not stoned away like an unwanted snake in the garden.”

Hashimi takes the title of her book from an Afghan poem “Dropping Keys” by Hafiz. “The small man/ Builds cages for everyone/ He/ Knows. / While the sage,/ Who has to duck his head/ When the moon is low,/ Keeps dropping keys all night long/ For the/ Beautiful/ Rowdy/ Prisoners.”

When the Moon is Low not only puts a face to the thousands of migrants who huddle today in camps in Turkey and Greece and Italy and France, it also shows their hearts.

My Wine Recommendation

biblia-chora-areti-redIf the family were to reunite in a Athens trattoria, they should order a bottle of 2012 Biblia Chora Areti Red.With its deep ruby-red color, it delivers a berry flavor with a hint of cocoa and black pepper. It’s a serious table wine that pairs well with the earthy spices of Greek food.($22)

 

 

Book Pairing: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats & Aythaya White

Art of Hearing HeartbeatsThe Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Phillip Sendker (Originally published in German as Das Herzenhoren)
New York: Other Press, 2002.

“Do you believe in love?” the old man asks. “Can words sprout wings? Can they glide like butterflies through the air? Can they captivate us, carry us off into another world? Can they open the last secret chambers of our soul?”

Jan-Phillip Sendker does just that in The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. Part contemporary mystery, part ancient fairy tale, the story weaves together two time periods, two cultures, and two lives lived by the same man – Tin Win, a Wall Street attorney who on the morning of his daughter’s college graduation disappears. “I love you, little one,” he tells her that morning. “Never forget that.” Later that day he flies from New York to Los Angeles, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, and from Hong Kong to Thailand where his passport is discovered in a ditch.

Four years later, his daughter Julia attempts to solve the mystery of why her father left her and why he never spoke of his boyhood in Burma or Mi Mi, his “beloved.” Julie knows of Mi Mi from a love letter she finds written but never mailed by her father. The letter states how Mi Mi has been with him for each of the five thousand eight hundred and sixty-four days since he last heard the beating of her heart. “When the time comes,” he wrote, “I will return.”

U Ba, the old man now seated across from Julia in a Burmese teahouse, promises to answer her questions about her father and his Mi Mi if only she will listen to his tale, and what a tale it is for the young Tin Win that U Ba describes is nothing like the successful man-about-town that Julia knew. This Tin Win is the cursed orphan of peasants who is cared for by a loving, sympathetic neighbor. As a young man he studies with Buddhist monks where one day he meets Mi Mi. Each is physically challenged and as their friendship grows, so does their love – a  love that echoes a fairy tale that Tin Win regularly told Julia as a child – the Tale of the Prince, the Princess, and the Crocodile.

The beauty of the novel is the way Sendker weaves Eastern spirituality with the lush yet impoverished world of Burma, a place that dramatically contrasts with the hurried pace of upscale New York. It’s as if the two exist in parallel worlds – in New York, U Ba observes, people “love to be dazzled” and rely “too heavily on eyes and neglect other senses.” In Burma, people “learn to divine the true nature of things, their substance, and the eyes are rather a hindrance than a help.” Sendker draws together these two worlds and their contrasting priorities to reconcile how a father could leave a child, and in so doing, allow the child to see that there is more to life than is visible.

As Julia undergoes her quest, the reader travels with her not only into an unfamiliar place but also into the soul of the characters, especially the soul of her father who understands the meaning of pure love. In Burma he “possessed all the happiness a person could find. He loved and was loved. Unconditionally.”

My Wine Recommendation

Aythaya WhiteThe Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a joyous book, a fairy tale for adults that brings a sense of happiness that will stay with you for a long time. In addition to the box of tissues you may need as you read, my wine recommendation is Aythaya White from the Myanmar (Burma) Estate.  A lush wine made of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20%Chenin Blanc, it has contrasting yet complementary aromas of gooseberries, grapefruit and green apple. Like the story, it delivers a fresh and pleasant after-taste. ($9 when ordered from the estate at http://www.myanmar-vineyard.com.)

 

Book Pairing: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand & Chateau de Bel-Air

Major PettigrewMajor Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. New York: Random House, 2010.

It began with the Churchills – a pair of rifles given to the Major’s father by the Maharishi himself after the Colonel saved the spiritual leader’s wife from a riot during the bloody Indian Partition of 1947. The Major was a mere boy then when his family lived in what is now Pakistan, but the honor associated with these fine guns is still a point of pride for the Major. He has long dreamed of walking the fields with the local aristocracy, the Churchills broken across his arm and ready for the hunt.

On the Colonel’s death bed, the Major and his brother Bernie were each given a Churchill with the understanding that the pair would be reunited upon their deaths and passed on to Roger, the Major’s son and sole heir to the family name. The Major takes such pride in the proper execution of family matters that he often opens his small iron strongbox, spreads out the thick pages of his will and reads over the list of assets and distribution. “It reads like a list of achievements.”

So it is to be expected that on the day of Bernie’s death, a moment that pains the Major with great grief, his thoughts naturally go to the reunion of these guns. They must be cared for – their stocks polished to a sheen, their barrels oiled, their triggers at ready. But there’s a problem – Bernie has left his estate to his wife Marjorie without any mention of the father’s directive, and all she and her daughter – and Roger, too, for that matter – can think of is the money the guns will fetch, especially if sold to an American businessman who is buying his way into the English gentry.

But the Churchills are not the only concern disrupting the Major’s carefully manicured life. He finds himself drawn to the elegant Mrs. Ali – the Pakistani shopkeeper at the local convenience store where he buys his tea and a widow like himself. They share a love of books, especially Kipling, and a familial connection to Pakistan. But therein lays the rub: the locals don’t approve of immigrants (Mrs. Ali was born in Sussex, but never mind), and even the Major wonders whether his growing attraction to her is proper. “They pretend to be English. Some of them were even born here. But under the surface were all these barbaric notions and allegiances to foreign customs.”

Helen Simonson’s witty and touching story blends generational, cultural, class and gender conflicts into a delightful read, especially when these elements collide at the annual golf club costume party.  Wanting to trump last year’s successful ‘Last Days of Pompeii’, the planning committee, composed of every gossip and old bitty in the neighborhood, chooses to blend Bollywood with a reenactment of the Colonel’s famous heroic efforts, complete with the gift of the Churchills.

As might be expected when cultural differences are mixed with great quantities of alcohol, the evening ends in disaster, and Major Pettigrew confronts a dilemma: Should he follow his heart and pursue Mrs. Ali, who was humiliated by the offensive pageantry and struggles with her own family traditions, or accept that the world is, indeed, made up of us and them?

For anyone who has lived in a small community where one’s every action is scrutinized by others, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand will seem familiar territory. Chocked full of characters – from the twittering next-door neighbor to the crass American to the obnoxious son – the novel has an enjoyable blend of humor, hubris and a happy ending.

My Wine Recommendation

Chateau de Bel-airMajor Pettigrew is a traditionalist, so when he has wine with dinner, it must be a proper claret. To the British, that means a French Burgundy. My recommendation for the Major and Mrs. Ali is the 2015 Chateau de Bel-Air, Lalande-de-Pomerol. It has a seductive floral nose with violets and jasmine and tastes of red fruits and sweet spices. $25

 

Book Pairing: A Piece of the World & Cellardoor Queen Anne’s Lace White

a piece of the worldA Piece of the World – Christina Baker Kline. New York: Harper Collins, 2017.

American art critics fall into two camps regarding Andrew Wyeth: Those who dismiss his work, calling him a mere illustrator, and those who regard him as a virtuoso of modern realism. But both camps agree on one point: “Christina’s World” is his masterpiece.

Even a casual patron of art knows the image: a woman in a pink dress lying in a field, her back to the viewer, facing a bleak house on the horizon across a grassy plain. At first one’s eye is drawn to the painting’s perfect composition – the girl’s dark hair placed dead center on the canvas; the house a weathered gray that blends with the stormy horizon. On closer examination, one looks at the woman’s body – the awkward turn of her torso, her thin arms, the fingers of one hand splayed as if clawing the earth. The viewer then wonders: Who is this woman and what is she thinking as she stares off into the distance? Christina Kline’s book seeks to answer this question.

Based on exhaustive reading of biographies, autobiographies, obituaries, articles, histories and art criticisms, Kline creates a fictionalized story of Christina Olson’s world – a world that traces its roots to Salem, Massachusetts where a female descendent  of John Hawthorne, the notorious chief magistrate of the Salem Witch Trials, marries a Norwegian sailor named Olson. The couple has three sons and one daughter – Christina. Fast forward decades and one of the sons, Al, and his sister Christina still live in the austere nine bedroom house on the bluff when a car arrives and out steps a young Andrew (Andy) Wyeth. He commandeers a room on the third floor of their house in Cushing, Maine and summer after summer travels from his home in Pennsylvania to paint, using eggs from the chickens in the yard to mix his tempera colors.

Soon, a friendship develops among Andy, his wife Betsy, Al and Christina, and as the siblings go about their daily chores managing a house and farm with no running water or electricity, Andy paints them – Al striding across a field, black crows on the barn roof, a pitcher of wild flowers, a rope hanging from a rafter, a dog curled on a white bedspread, and Christina – sitting in a doorway, straight back in a chair, crawling across the field.

This was her life from an early age. She suffered from ‘Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome’, a hereditary disorder that damages nerves in the arms and legs. Refusing to use a wheelchair, she crawled upstairs, outside to the chickens, down the road to neighbor’s homes and across the fields to the view from the bluff. Like the New England winters that the summer cottage people escaped, Christina is rock hard. Like the house, like the landscape, she perseveres year after year.

Kline’s story has no room for pity. One admires, even loves, this woman who accepts her condition while fighting not to be defined by it. “We all have our burdens to bear,” her mother told her at an early age. “You know what yours is now. That’s good. You’ll never by surprised by it.”

Where Wyeth’s paintings are stark and drained of color, Kline’s writing is lush. She paints with words of flowers, sunlight on ocean tides and blue skies with pink-tipped clouds, capturing the world as Christina sees it. But in the end, it’s all about the painting. “There she is, that girl, painted on a planet of grass. Her wants are simple: to tilt her face to the sun and feel its warmth. To clutch the earth beneath her fingers. To escape from and return to the house she was born in.”

View the painting. Read the book. Admire the tenacity of the human spirit.

My Wine Recommendation

queen-annes-lace“Live your life. Be who you are. Drink good wine along the way.” That’s the motto of Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, Maine. As Christina and Al sit on a blanket outside their house at the end of a hard day on the farm, Cellardoor’s Queen Anne’ Lace wine would be the perfect complement to the evening. Made from a 50/50 blend on Seyval and Vidal grapes, it offers aromas of citrus blossom, green apple, and Key lime pie. When the bottle is empty, it makes a perfect container for a bouquet of wild flowers. $16.