Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Commoner

Title: The Commoner
Author: John Burnham Schwartz
Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Summary: 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.

Review: The Commoner tells the story of the first non aristocratic Japanese commoner to marry a Crown Prince of Japan. A young woman who has grown up in what would be considered moderate luxury and moderate freedom, with a good education, and loving parents connects with the Crown Prince through playing tennis matches with him, and then occasionally meeting with him in other social situations. At the onset her parents are adverse to the match because they believe their daughter will be thrust into a imperial court and world that she has not been trained for, growing up as a common citizen, and they do not want her to suffer. However after pressure from one of the Prince's closest confidante's and inside the imperial court her parent's and Haruko relent to the Prince's offer, and say yes, that she will marry the Prince.

From the day of her marriage, and her entrance into learning all the traditions, rigorous schedules, and rules of the court, Haruko learns that her main purpose is to provide an heir, and to quietly suffer the criticisms of the current empress without complaint.  A few years into her marriage she has a nervous breakdown, which she does eventually recover from, but which shows how her imperial life has taken away her connections to her nuclear family, and her sense of purpose as a soul who has her own interests, and being a person beyond the strict traditions of the world she now feels trapped in. Around thirty years after her own marriage Haruko is instrumental is convincing another common citizen, a young woman who is independent and strong minded to accept the marriage proposal of her son, even though she suspects that the girl might have the same troubles that she did. This ultimately results in tragedy, but has a bittersweet ending.  Haruko in the only way she can helps her daughter in law escape the fate that she herself must live with.

This book was a very easy read, wonderful writing, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about this dynasty, and the traditions, and human feelings that go along with it.


  1. Thanks for the great review and recommendation! I love Historical Fiction and I’m currently reading “Turkoise” by Joan M. Sargent. If you go to her website,, you can find out more about her and the book. It’s truly captivating, and I highly recommend it! I’ve been looking for another book for when I’m finished with this one and I think I may check out "The Commoner"! Thanks again!

  2. Sure :) I will definitely check out Sargent's website if you do pick up the Commoner I hope you enjoy it!