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The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
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The Commoner

by John Burnham Schwartz

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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. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
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. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
3.5***

Set in Japan, beginning shortly before World War II, this novel tells the story of Haruko, a young woman from a very good family. She is coming of age as Tokyo rebuilds after the war, and she gets a taste of the outside world when her best friend writes letters from America, where her father is a diplomat. She is lovely, educated and accomplished, and Haruko attracts the attention of several suitors. The summer after she completes her university studies, Haruko and her family take a summer house in a resort town, where she spends much time playing tennis at the club. It is during a doubles tournament that she meets the Crown Prince of Japan, when she and her partner are paired against the young heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne. This encounter will completely change her life.

If my synopsis makes this sound like a light romance, that is my failing. The dust jacket information tells the reader that Haruko will marry the prince, and fall subject to an ancient and intractable imperial household seemingly bent on destroying her. It is her struggle to maintain a certain independence and control over her life, and that of her child, that forms the true nucleus of the novel.

Schwartz gives us a rich background into the traditions and inner workings of the court. I was transported into this very different world. Right alongside Haruko, I experienced the luxury of this rare existence, and the restrictions imposed by the traditions, expectations and obligations of the position. I felt her frustration and grief as she lost the woman she had been (and might have become), and celebrated her small victories. I’m less satisfied with the way in which the novel ends. There is a several-decades long gap in the middle of the book, before Schwartz takes Haruko’s struggle into the next generation. How I wish he had stayed with Haruko and her life-long efforts to come to terms with the consequences of her marriage into the imperial family.

Readers should note that while Schwartz drew inspiration from the personal histories of certain members of the Japanese Imperial Family, the characters and incidents in this novel are a total fabrication. Although a Google search will point out certain similarities…
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
John Burnham Schwartz does make it clear that money and prestige do not a happy life make. And if we missed that truth with the first generation, it became abundantly clear in round two. I guess you just can’t go against tradition. But wait! By marrying commoners, the Crown Princes did go against tradition. So why did the rule breaking have to stop there? Haruko does show strength of character by being more supportive of her daughter-in-law than what she was shown by her own mother-in-law, but even that support was almost too late. Besides the despair and depression that engulfed both princesses, little other character development was evident. We don’t really know how or why both of them suppressed their true personalities or why their husbands allowed them to be so obviously miserable for so long before coming to their aid. The book is sadly lacking in many of the details of their lives, feelings, and thoughts, other than their deep sadness at the life they freely chose. Somehow, though an interesting tale, it missed the mark of being a really good book. ( )
  Maydacat | Feb 21, 2015 |
About the first 40? pages (anything before the post-war era) were kind of extraneous storytelling. Even while reading, they just felt like placeholders, and like I was waiting for the book to really get going.

Once it got moving, though, it was an interesting and engaging story--part love story, and part tale of a woman's search for independence. 3.5 stars. ( )
  fefferbooks | May 12, 2014 |
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For Aleksandra & Garrick and in memory of David Halberstam
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When I was a girl, my father told me the story of two cranes who set out to fly across the world together to fulfill their destinies.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385515715, Hardcover)

It is 1959 when Haruko, a young woman of good family, marries the Crown Prince of Japan, the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne. She is the first non-aristocratic woman to enter the longest-running, almost hermetically sealed, and mysterious monarchy in the world. Met with cruelty and suspicion by the Empress and her minions, Haruko is controlled at every turn. The only interest the court has in her is her ability to produce an heir. After finally giving birth to a son, Haruko suffers a nervous breakdown and loses her voice. However, determined not to be crushed by the imperial bureaucrats, she perseveres. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman—a rising star in the foreign ministry—to accept the marriage proposal of her son, the Crown Prince. The consequences are tragic and dramatic.

Told in the voice of Haruko, meticulously researched and superbly imagined, The Commoner is the mesmerizing, moving, and surprising story of a brutally rarified and controlled existence at once hidden and exposed, and of a complex relationship between two isolated women who, despite being visible to all, are truly understood only by each other. With the unerring skill of a master storyteller, John Burnham Schwartz has written his finest novel yet.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:20 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"It is 1959 when Haruko, a young woman of good family, marries the Crown Prince of Japan, the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne. She is the first nonaristocratic woman to enter the mysterious, almost hermetically sealed, and longest-running monarchy in the world. Met with cruelty and suspicion by the Empress and her minions, Haruko is controlled at every turn. The only interest the court has in Haruko is her ability to produce an heir. After finally giving birth to a son, she suffers a nervous breakdown and loses her voice. However, determined not to be crushed by the imperial bureaucrats, Haruko perseveres. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman - a rising star in the foreign ministry - to accept the marriage proposal of her son, the Crown Prince. The consequences are tragic and dramatic." "Told in Haruko's voice, The Commoner is the story of a brutally rarefied and controlled existence at once hidden and exposed, and of a complex relationship between two isolated women who, despite being visible to all, are truly understood only by each other."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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