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John Burnham Schwartz

The Commoner : A Novel

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It is 1959 when Haruko marries the Crown Prince of Japan. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman to accept the marriage proposal of her son, with consequences both tragic and dramatic.

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It is 1959 when Haruko marries the Crown Prince of Japan. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman to accept the marriage proposal of her son, with consequences both tragic and dramatic.

In this national bestseller from the author of Reservation Road, a young woman, Haruko, becomes the first nonaristocratic woman to penetrate the Japanese monarchy.

When she marries the Crown Prince of Japan in 1959, Haruko is met with cruelty and suspicion by the Empress, and controlled at every turn as she tries to navigate this mysterious, hermetic world, suffering a nervous breakdown after finally giving birth to a son. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman to accept the marriage proposal of her son, with tragic consequences. Based on extensive research, The Commoner is a stunning novel about a brutally rarified and controlled existence, and the complex relationship between two isolated women who are truly understood only by each other.

Specifications

Series Title
Vintage Contemporaries
Publisher
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Book Format
Paperback
Original Languages
English
Number of Pages
368
Author
John Burnham Schwartz
Title
The Commoner
ISBN-13
9781400096053
Publication Date
January, 2009
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
7.98 x 5.14 x 0.79 Inches
ISBN-10
1400096057

Customer reviews & ratings

Average Rating:(3.8)out of 5 stars
5 stars
6
4 stars
11
3 stars
9
2 stars
0
1 star
1
Most helpful positive review
1 customers found this helpful
Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars
Ive always found Japa...
I've always found Japan's history and culture extremely interesting, so when I stumbled across The Commoner, the tale of an ordinary girl becoming Empress of Japan by John Burnham Schwartz, I was immediately set on reading it. I'm glad I did-I enjoyed it, though that doesn't mean I didn't have some issues with it. Based on the real Empress of Japan, Michiko, the novel details the life of the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family. In the fictionalized version presented, her name is Haruko Tsuneyasu, and she takes us through her life growing up in post-WWII Japan, becoming a young woman, and eventually marrying the Crown Prince of Japan, against the advice of her father. Learning about the secretive, tradition-bound world of the Japanese royal family was really intriguing. Haruko is the perfect narrator, as she too is learning about these rules for the first time. It was easy to see how stifling the court rituals were, and therefore not surprising to see Haruko begin to wither away. Until relatively recently in Japan, the Emperor and his family were worshiped as descendants of the gods. On the surface, that sounds great-you've got servants at your beck and call, live in the royal palace, don't have to work, etc, etc. But where The Commoner really shines is showing how being perceived as gods is actually an awful burden. Besides coping with the endless rules (always enter the room behind the Prince, never speak before he does), Haruko is nearly robbed of her humanity. Becoming the Crown Princess changes her relationship with her parents, introducing stiff formality and distance between them all. Haruko is barely allowed to see her son-nurses feed and change him, and only hand him off during prearranged visits. She has no real friends in the palace, no one she can trust or talk to. It's heart-breaking to read. Schwartz does an admirable job writing from the voice of Haruko. She is dedicated to her loving parents, but headstrong and her own person; her voice, though traditional in style and prose, shows just how deeply the strict rules of the court affect her, and how much, in her own small ways, she challenges them. (Also, though it's not a large part of the book, I really related to the parts where Haruko described her aimlessness after graduating school without knowing what she truly wanted to do with her life.) One thing I would have liked more of were the "middle years" of Haruko's life; the book covers her early life as Crown Princess very well, and her later years as Empress, but completely cuts out her life from her late 20s to late 40s. I may have just read it too quickly, but despite the lingering treatment Schwartz uses on Haruko's post-college and early Princess years, the book felt very short. (And to some, the ending might seem straight-up wish fulfillment, but I didn't care-I was cheering for Haruko and Keiko to pull it off the entire time.) I also felt that the book was a little weaker in the second half, once the excitement and then dread of Haruko's marriage wore off, but it did still keep me reading. It's overall an interesting, worthwhile read, especially for those who are interested in getting a glimpse behind the scenes of Japan's royal family-and learning about the women who suffered under, and eventually changed, the system. This review is also available on Bookwanderer.
Most helpful negative review
1 customers found this helpful
Average Rating:(1.0)out of 5 stars
sixty pages in, and i...
sixty pages in, and i'm bored out of my mind. i could take another story about a repressed asian woman, just not one that moves as slow as this one. i am putting it down, with some regret, but life's too short!
Most helpful positive review
1 customers found this helpful
Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars
Ive always found Japa...
I've always found Japan's history and culture extremely interesting, so when I stumbled across The Commoner, the tale of an ordinary girl becoming Empress of Japan by John Burnham Schwartz, I was immediately set on reading it. I'm glad I did-I enjoyed it, though that doesn't mean I didn't have some issues with it. Based on the real Empress of Japan, Michiko, the novel details the life of the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family. In the fictionalized version presented, her name is Haruko Tsuneyasu, and she takes us through her life growing up in post-WWII Japan, becoming a young woman, and eventually marrying the Crown Prince of Japan, against the advice of her father. Learning about the secretive, tradition-bound world of the Japanese royal family was really intriguing. Haruko is the perfect narrator, as she too is learning about these rules for the first time. It was easy to see how stifling the court rituals were, and therefore not surprising to see Haruko begin to wither away. Until relatively recently in Japan, the Emperor and his family were worshiped as descendants of the gods. On the surface, that sounds great-you've got servants at your beck and call, live in the royal palace, don't have to work, etc, etc. But where The Commoner really shines is showing how being perceived as gods is actually an awful burden. Besides coping with the endless rules (always enter the room behind the Prince, never speak before he does), Haruko is nearly robbed of her humanity. Becoming the Crown Princess changes her relationship with her parents, introducing stiff formality and distance between them all. Haruko is barely allowed to see her son-nurses feed and change him, and only hand him off during prearranged visits. She has no real friends in the palace, no one she can trust or talk to. It's heart-breaking to read. Schwartz does an admirable job writing from the voice of Haruko. She is dedicated to her loving parents, but headstrong and her own person; her voice, though traditional in style and prose, shows just how deeply the strict rules of the court affect her, and how much, in her own small ways, she challenges them. (Also, though it's not a large part of the book, I really related to the parts where Haruko described her aimlessness after graduating school without knowing what she truly wanted to do with her life.) One thing I would have liked more of were the "middle years" of Haruko's life; the book covers her early life as Crown Princess very well, and her later years as Empress, but completely cuts out her life from her late 20s to late 40s. I may have just read it too quickly, but despite the lingering treatment Schwartz uses on Haruko's post-college and early Princess years, the book felt very short. (And to some, the ending might seem straight-up wish fulfillment, but I didn't care-I was cheering for Haruko and Keiko to pull it off the entire time.) I also felt that the book was a little weaker in the second half, once the excitement and then dread of Haruko's marriage wore off, but it did still keep me reading. It's overall an interesting, worthwhile read, especially for those who are interested in getting a glimpse behind the scenes of Japan's royal family-and learning about the women who suffered under, and eventually changed, the system. This review is also available on Bookwanderer.
Most helpful negative review
1 customers found this helpful
Average Rating:(1.0)out of 5 stars
sixty pages in, and i...
sixty pages in, and i'm bored out of my mind. i could take another story about a repressed asian woman, just not one that moves as slow as this one. i am putting it down, with some regret, but life's too short!
I've always found Japan's history and culture extremely interesting, so when I stumbled across The Commoner, the tale of an ordinary girl becoming Empress of Japan by John Burnham Schwartz, I was immediately set on reading it. I'm glad I did-I enjoyed it, though that doesn't mean I didn't have some issues with it. Based on the real Empress of Japan, Michiko, the novel details the life of the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family. In the fictionalized version presented, her name is Haruko Tsuneyasu, and she takes us through her life growing up in post-WWII Japan, becoming a young woman, and eventually marrying the Crown Prince of Japan, against the advice of her father. Learning about the secretive, tradition-bound world of the Japanese royal family was really intriguing. Haruko is the perfect narrator, as she too is learning about these rules for the first time. It was easy to see how stifling the court rituals were, and therefore not surprising to see Haruko begin to wither away. Until relatively recently in Japan, the Emperor and his family were worshiped as descendants of the gods. On the surface, that sounds great-you've got servants at your beck and call, live in the royal palace, don't have to work, etc, etc. But where The Commoner really shines is showing how being perceived as gods is actually an awful burden. Besides coping with the endless rules (always enter the room behind the Prince, never speak before he does), Haruko is nearly robbed of her humanity. Becoming the Crown Princess changes her relationship with her parents, introducing stiff formality and distance between them all. Haruko is barely allowed to see her son-nurses feed and change him, and only hand him off during prearranged visits. She has no real friends in the palace, no one she can trust or talk to. It's heart-breaking to read. Schwartz does an admirable job writing from the voice of Haruko. She is dedicated to her loving parents, but headstrong and her own person; her voice, though traditional in style and prose, shows just how deeply the strict rules of the court affect her, and how much, in her own small ways, she challenges them. (Also, though it's not a large part of the book, I really related to the parts where Haruko described her aimlessness after graduating school without knowing what she truly wanted to do with her life.) One thing I would have liked more of were the "middle years" of Haruko's life; the book covers her early life as Crown Princess very well, and her later years as Empress, but completely cuts out her life from her late 20s to late 40s. I may have just read it too quickly, but despite the lingering treatment Schwartz uses on Haruko's post-college and early Princess years, the book felt very short. (And to some, the ending might seem straight-up wish fulfillment, but I didn't care-I was cheering for Haruko and Keiko to pull it off the entire time.) I also felt that the book was a little weaker in the second half, once the excitement and then dread of Haruko's marriage wore off, but it did still keep me reading. It's overall an interesting, worthwhile read, especially for those who are interested in getting a glimpse behind the scenes of Japan's royal family-and learning about the women who suffered under, and eventually changed, the system. This review is also available on Bookwanderer.
sixty pages in, and i'm bored out of my mind. i could take another story about a repressed asian woman, just not one that moves as slow as this one. i am putting it down, with some regret, but life's too short!

Frequent mentions

1-5 of 27 reviews
Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars

Ive always found Japa...

I've always found Japan's history and culture extremely interesting, so when I stumbled across The Commoner, the tale of an ordinary girl becoming Empress of Japan by John Burnham Schwartz, I was immediately set on reading it. I'm glad I did-I enjoyed it, though that doesn't mean I didn't have some issues with it. Based on the real Empress of Japan, Michiko, the novel details the life of the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family. In the fictionalized version presented, her name is Haruko Tsuneyasu, and she takes us through her life growing up in post-WWII Japan, becoming a young woman, and eventually marrying the Crown Prince of Japan, against the advice of her father. Learning about the secretive, tradition-bound world of the Japanese royal family was really intriguing. Haruko is the perfect narrator, as she too is learning about these rules for the first time. It was easy to see how stifling the court rituals were, and therefore not surprising to see Haruko begin to wither away. Until relatively recently in Japan, the Emperor and his family were worshiped as descendants of the gods. On the surface, that sounds great-you've got servants at your beck and call, live in the royal palace, don't have to work, etc, etc. But where The Commoner really shines is showing how being perceived as gods is actually an awful burden. Besides coping with the endless rules (always enter the room behind the Prince, never speak before he does), Haruko is nearly robbed of her humanity. Becoming the Crown Princess changes her relationship with her parents, introducing stiff formality and distance between them all. Haruko is barely allowed to see her son-nurses feed and change him, and only hand him off during prearranged visits. She has no real friends in the palace, no one she can trust or talk to. It's heart-breaking to read. Schwartz does an admirable job writing from the voice of Haruko. She is dedicated to her loving parents, but headstrong and her own person; her voice, though traditional in style and prose, shows just how deeply the strict rules of the court affect her, and how much, in her own small ways, she challenges them. (Also, though it's not a large part of the book, I really related to the parts where Haruko described her aimlessness after graduating school without knowing what she truly wanted to do with her life.) One thing I would have liked more of were the "middle years" of Haruko's life; the book covers her early life as Crown Princess very well, and her later years as Empress, but completely cuts out her life from her late 20s to late 40s. I may have just read it too quickly, but despite the lingering treatment Schwartz uses on Haruko's post-college and early Princess years, the book felt very short. (And to some, the ending might seem straight-up wish fulfillment, but I didn't care-I was cheering for Haruko and Keiko to pull it off the entire time.) I also felt that the book was a little weaker in the second half, once the excitement and then dread of Haruko's marriage wore off, but it did still keep me reading. It's overall an interesting, worthwhile read, especially for those who are interested in getting a glimpse behind the scenes of Japan's royal family-and learning about the women who suffered under, and eventually changed, the system. This review is also available on Bookwanderer.

Helpful?
Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars

This book is based on ...

This book is based on the true story of the commoner who married into the Japanese royal family following World War II. It was so painful to make the journey with her as she had to leave her family and be treated so poorly by her mother-in-law and even the servants who all looked down on her. Schwartz does not, of course, have any real knowledge of the inner workings of the Japanese royal family, but he does a wonderful job of painting a realistic picture of what it must be like to live in that world.

Helpful?
Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars

This book is based on ...

This book is based on the true story of the commoner who married into the Japanese royal family following World War II. It was so painful to make the journey with her as she had to leave her family and be treated so poorly by her mother-in-law and even the servants who all looked down on her. Schwartz does not, of course, have any real knowledge of the inner workings of the Japanese royal family, but he does a wonderful job of painting a realistic picture of what it must be like to live in that world.

Helpful?
Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars

Synopsis: In 1959, Har...

Synopsis: In 1959, Haruko gives up her life as a commoner to become the wife of the Crown Prince of Japan. She gives up her freedom, independence, and family to a life where her only expectancy is to produce an heir - a son. Her first child is a son and the demands placed upon her by tradition and the Empress cause her to have a breakdown. When she finally becomes stronger, she resolves to never be broken again. Thirty years later, when she is Empress that same resolve helps Haruko to protect her new daughter-in-law. The first chapter of the book, about Haruko's childhood during the WWII bombings in Japan drew me into the story. However, after that the preceeding chapters, although eloquently written in great detail, were rather dull. Just when I was about to abandon the book, Haurko marries the Prince, and the book gets much better. It is one of those books that when I finished reading it, I felt sad and fulfilled at the same time. Recommended if you can get through the first 200 pages or so. 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Helpful?
Average Rating:(3.0)out of 5 stars

I enjoyed this immense...

I enjoyed this immensely, it is obviously a fictionalized account of the current Empress' life and is a quick and light read despite the air of melancholy and suppresion throughout the book.

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