The Realist

Fiction - Historical - Personage
240 Pages
Reviewed on 07/28/2021
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Author Biography

I have written five novels stemming from many personal experiences in my life. I grew up in an artistic family in North Carolina, and my inspiration came from artistic observations of the world around me. The Realist is a historical fiction novel written to accentuate the need in all of us to develop the skill of honest, but piercing, observation. It is a form of realism where we discover ourselves wanting to find, and able to see, some degree of good in everyone, even if the vision stirs bitter criticism from the rest of the world. This view gave me endless inspirations for my paintings as well as my books and opened my eyes to that same quality expressed in almost all great works of art throughout history.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite

The Realist by Jack Hemphill is a historical fiction novel about a young biracial man yearning to be an artist during the Great Depression. Leon Hawkins grew up in an orphanage with the comfort of a slightly older sister, Edith. From the time he could hold a crayon or pencil, he wanted to be an artist. He was born with talent. He aged out of the orphanage at twenty-one and found it impossible to gain work due to having a black mother and a white father. His only option was to learn survival skills on the street, finding shelter with other homeless men under a bridge. But his calling to be an artist never left him, and he did what he could, drawing and painting his surroundings. This led him on a surprising journey, where he rose above racial barriers and made a difference in the lives of those around him.

Jack Hemphill captures the life and times of Leon Hawkins with rich detail and style, setting you down in the era to experience what it was like for a biracial man living back then and trying to make it as an artist. His vivid imagery brings the people and places to life. The plot itself is compelling; you really struggle with Hawkins as he makes his way from the orphanage into the wider world, which is quite unfriendly. But he doesn't give up, and this is one of the biggest takeaways of the novel. You will feel Leon's frustration of seeming to not fit in anywhere, and the triumph of becoming the artist he'd always dreamed of. The writing is smooth, graceful, and dependable. My favorite parts are when he reunites with Edith and his process of becoming a noted artist, and the ending is a moving surprise. The Realist by Jack Hemphill is a must-read if you like intriguing characters in a plot-driven historical drama.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

“Art is what the artist says is art.” A powerful statement from the early twentieth-century realms of the art world, at a time when things were ever-changing depending on the political and social environment of the time. Leon Hawkins, born in the early part of the twentieth century, with the blight of being of mixed race, was abandoned as an infant at an orphanage. He spent his growing-up and formative years at the orphanage, somewhat set apart from the others as his passion was drawing rather than the sports that interested the other boys. His older sister, also abandoned at the orphanage, understood Leon’s passion for art. At twenty-one, when he graduated from the orphanage at a time when the world seemed to be coming apart, Leon’s artistic drive was both hindered and enriched by the homeless life cast upon him. It was the Depression; there were no jobs, especially for artists. But, the Depression didn’t last forever. There was the Second World War and the ever-changing world climate that affected those, like Leon, who created from the depths of their souls. He was a realist. His art reflected exactly what he saw. And, it was his art that eventually attracted the passion of art collectors and art enthusiasts.

Jack Hemphill’s novel, The Realist, is a complex look at early twentieth-century America and how it affected the arts. The author sets his protagonist, Leon, against the odds of a society not yet ready to accept a person of mixed race, let alone one with exceptional artistic talent. The setting and the time are well documented with eloquent descriptive narratives. The plot evolves through Leon’s growing-up years into manhood and his ever-growing passion for art. The author also includes some interesting dissertations on twentieth-century American artistic trends, adding perspective and depth to a novel that is enriched in the growing passion of an artistic spirit. Like Irving Stone’s Lust for Life about Van Gogh, and The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo, this novel is epic in its in-depth and thorough evaluation of art and the world that influenced art. Told with passion and intuitive insight into the artistic world, The Realist itself is a work of art.