Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Schwartz's novel of the young woman, not of royal heritage, chosen to marry Japan's crown prince after WWII, is a delicate portrait of a simultaneously blessed and circumscribed existence. The book is written in the first person, making a female reader the obvious choice, and Janet Song rises to the occasion. Song's voice hushed, placid, deeply gentle lends a minimalist beauty to Schwartz's novel. Song thankfully skips the accents and stylized voices, choosing to emphasize a careful, vigorous reading that conveys a (perhaps stereotypically Western) sense of Japanese calm. The result is a deeply soothing reading. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday/Talese hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 22, 2007). (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
JOHN BURNHAM SCHWARTZ is the author of the novels Claire Marvel, Bicycle Days, and Reservation Road, which was made into a motion picture based on his screenplay, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, and Jennifer Connelly. His books have been translated into more than fifteen languages, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times and The New Yorker. He lives with his wife and their son in Brooklyn, New York.