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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Commoner


The Commoner Cover

ISBN13: 9780385515719
ISBN10: 0385515715
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

The Commoner is a poignant tale of formidable tradition, unspoken sacrifice, and invincible courage. When Haruko is chosen to become the Crown Princes consort, her family reluctantly allows the marriage. What follows for their daughter is an austere life of ritual and duty carried out in painful isolation. As a commoner, she withstands constant scrutiny by the royal family, in time giving birth to a much–anticipated male heir. Years later, when her son chooses an accomplished young woman to be his bride, Haruko emerges from her seclusion to convince the brilliant Keiko to acquiesce. As she watches Keiko endure the same ordeal she herself survived, Haruko must come to terms with hushed questions of loyalty, commitment, and freedom. When she urges her daughter–in–law to take her child and flee, Haruko at last gives her own earth-bound spirit wings. A novel of bondage and extraordinary liberation, The Commoner spans decades of Japanese history, detailing the private suffering of women who have joined the imperial family. With unflinching candor, John Burnham Schwartz lends his voice to the generations of women who have silently sacrificed their lives inside the palace walls.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of John Burnham Schwartzs The Commoner. We hope they will enrich your experience of this mesmerizing novel. To find other great books for reading groups, visit

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Sylvie, March 6, 2008 (view all comments by Sylvie)
Wow... what a novel!

I always wonder how certain male authors find the perfect voice to talk from and/or about women in different situations. This book is a GREAT example of this exact thing.

This is a layered story of past repeating into the present and putting into play events which will unfold in ways that have great repercussions.

Not since Memoirs of a Geisha have I been enthralled by a book about Japaneese traditions and protocol.

Beware that picking this book up will get you to loose a few days to your favorite reading chair!
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Product Details

A Novel
Schwartz, John Burnham
Nan A. Talese
Historical fiction
Women -- Japan.
Publication Date:
January 2008
Grade Level:
8.46x5.98x1.26 in. 1.18 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Commoner Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Random House - English 9780385515719 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Schwartz bases his finely wrought fourth novel on the life of Empress Michiko of Japan, the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family. Haruko Tsuneyasu grows up in postwar rural Japan and studies at Sacred Heart University, where she excels — particularly and fatefully — at tennis, which provides her entre to the crown prince, whom she handily beats in an exhibition match. After more meetings on and off the court, the prince asks Haruko to marry him. Persuaded by their mutual attraction and by assurances that the break with tradition will usher in a modern era, Haruko ultimately agrees, against her father's wishes, to become the first commoner turned royal. But, as her father had feared, her freedom and ambition suffer under the stifling rituals of court life. Eventually, Haruko succumbs to the inescapable judgment of the empress and her entourage, falling mute after the birth of her son, Yasuhito. Though the narrative loses some of its life after Haruko marries — perhaps mirroring Haruko's experience within the palace walls — urgency returns after Haruko chooses a wife for Yasuhito; the marriage tests Haruko's dedication to the crown. Schwartz (Reservation Road) pulls off a grand feat in giving readers a moving dramatization of a cloistered world. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "This story is as ethereal and sensual as a Japanese watercolor, as magical and dark as a fairy tale."
"Review" by , "With a strong narrative voice and well-researched historical background."
"Review" by , "The details of life for upper-class Japanese during and after World War II are fascinating...but readers may be put off by the way Schwartz creates thoughts and feelings for his thinly veiled characterizations of living people. Not likely to go over well with the Japanese royals."
"Review" by , "[F]inely wrought....Schwartz pulls off a grand feat in giving readers a moving dramatization of a cloistered world."
"Synopsis" by , 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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