Book Review: Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur D. Hittner
Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse
By Arthur D. Hittner
Freshly graduated from Yale in 1935, Henry J. Kapler parlays his talent, determination, and creative energy into a burgeoning art career in New York under the wing of artists such as Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh. The young artist first gains notoriety when his depiction of a symbolic, interracial handshake between ballplayers is attacked by a knife-wielding assailant at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. Yet even as his art star rises, his personal life turns precarious—and perilous—when his love for Fiona, a young WPA muralist, collides with his growing attraction to the exquisitely beautiful Alice, an ex-chorus girl who becomes his model and muse. Alice is the girlfriend of Fiona’s cousin, Jake Powell, the hotheaded, hard-drinking outfielder for the New York Yankees whose jealousy explodes into abuse and rage, endangering the lives of all three. While Henry wrestles with his complicated love life, he also struggles mightily to reconcile his pacifism with the rabid patriotism of his Jewish-Russian émigré father. As war draws near, Henry faces two difficult choices, one of which could cost him his life.
"I've decided to become an artist…"
His father would have taken it better if Henry J. Kapler had announced at the dinner table that he was running away and marrying a Catholic. An artist was not at all what his father had planned for his eldest son. But in this decision, Henry would not be swayed — for art commanded his very soul. Without it, he was nothing.
With an unquenchable determination, Henry moves to New York, to the very heartbeat of life, love and artistic imaginations. He may well be forced to live a penniless existence, but others had walked that path before. It was worth the sacrifice.
Captivated by a world he had only ever dreamed about, Henry begins to make a name for himself. However, paintings are raw emotion, and they awaken strong sentiments in not only Henry’s critics but also those he loves…
From the dreams of a young idealistic man to the horrors of war and an impossible decision, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur D. Hittner is the heartbreakingly bewitching story of a young man whose soul was full of dreams and colours and passion, but the world he lived in turned out to be comprised of different shades of grey.
Sometimes there is no making sense of life, and those who burn the brightest are destined to burn the shortest. With a mesmerising narrative that seduced me with that first tantalising stroke of the brush, and a protagonist that was as conflicted as he was beautiful, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse is the unforgettable story of one man who is torn apart by love, sacrifice and war.
Oh, this book! What an exhilarating portrait Hittner has painted of the Academic and Social Realism period in America. Between the pages of this remarkable book, Hittner has portrayed an era rich in social change, racial inequalities, depression, sport, politics and above everything else art and love. It is a novel that explores a nation in flux. Expect to discover the debauched world of the burlesque clubs, the gluttony of corrupted wealth, and everything in between. Hittner has been astoundingly ambitious with his portrait of 1930s America, but such ambition has undoubtedly paid off, for this book is in all ways a Historical Fiction masterpiece.
Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse is a story of one man whose life is both made and destroyed by his consuming passion for the one thing that would remain forever elusive to him — the exact shade of colour, and the heart's dearest desire. This is a book that left me reaching for the tissues on more than one occasion as Henry battles with what he sees, what he knows, and what he wants. He is a man trapped in a prison of his own making, and the only way to break free is to lose everything he ever loved. As this novel reaches its climactic ending, the reader is asked to pause and contemplate the truth behind every brushstroke of every painting they have ever gazed upon. This book has the power to make you question everything you thought you knew about art and the artists that bared their souls upon the canvases of their life.
Henry is a very appealing protagonist who captured not only my imagination but also my heart. Henry is one of those men who, if you are lucky, will grace your life, be it for a moment or forever, and will irrevocably change it. Henry spends his life chasing his muse, never realising that he was, in fact, someone else's. His compassionate heart ends up being his undoing. He is a very conflicted character, especially near the end of this novel, and his story is absolutely heartrending. Hittner takes his readers on such an emotional journey, and yet this journey is as irresistible as it is enthralling. Henry is the kind of protagonist that will stay in your heart long after you have put the book down. He is also one of those characters whom you desperately want to be a real historical person, and there is almost this forlorn sense that if he did not exist then, he really should have. Hittner takes great care to state in his author's notes in the back of this book that Henry is fictional, although his life mirrors to the extent that of Harold Rabinovitz, they even share some of the same paintings, and I think that it is this that makes Henry come across so authentically in the telling.
Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse is a truly remarkable book that is as rich in historical detail as it is in story. Although Henry J. Kapler is a fictional character, many of the secondary characters in this book are not. I thought Hittner’s portrayal of Yasuo Kuniyoshi was particularly sublime, as was his depiction of the baseball player, Ernest "Bunny" Taliaferro. With these two characters, in particular, Hittner depicts the racial prejudice and intolerance of the era.
Hittner has, at times, used creative licence to cast both his secondary characters in the light that his story demanded of him. His decision to include Yankees outfielder, Jake Powell into the narrative was very interesting. I can see why he did, for Jake's volatile nature was a contrast to Henry's gentle ways, and it also highlighted the differences and the divisions that were in sport during this period depending upon the colour of your skin and your own personal demons. I thought Jake's portray was particularly well-drawn.
You don't have to be an expert on art or baseball to enjoy this book. Not knowing makes this story all the more exciting and Hittner is an excellent tour guide. His depiction of the artists' techniques, the baseballer's skill, is exquisite. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from the opening sentence to that final full stop— an exceptionally wonderful read. Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur D. Hittner is deserving of a place on your bookshelf.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse
Arthur D. Hittner
ARTHUR D. HITTNER, author of the art-related historical novels "The Caroline Paintings" and "Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse" and the humorous baseball novel "Four-Finger Singer and His Late Wife, Kate," is also the author of "Honus Wagner: The Life of Baseball's 'Flying Dutchman'" (McFarland, 1996), winner of the Seymour Medal awarded by the Society of American Baseball Research for the best book of baseball history or biography published in 1996; "At the Threshold of Brilliance:The Brief but Splendid Career of Harold J. Rabinovitz" (The Rabinovitz Project, 2014), a biography and catalogue raisonne of a newly rediscovered master of American art of the Depression era; and the irreverent travelogue, "Cross-Country Chronicles: Road Trips Through the Art and Soul of America." Mr. Hittner has also written about fine art subjects for Maine Antique Digest, Fine Art Connoisseur and Antiques & Fine Art and has served as a Trustee of the Danforth Museum of Art and the Tucson Museum of Art.