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The Commoner

A Novel

By John Burnham Schwartz

The Commoner
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2008,
    368 pages.

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Dorothy T. (03/16/12)

Uncommon novel
This author's writing style is gorgeous, although I admit I had to re-read a few passages to be sure I understood them. The setting--the Japanese Imperial court and its traditions and rituals--give the novel an exotic ambiance, but also drives the story. How can this centuries-old way of life continue to survive in our modern world? Haruko, the central character, is so well-drawn that her joys and heartaches affected me. I am looking forward to our book club discussion--there is much to delve into here.
Deborah (02/02/08)

The Commoner
As an avid reader with a love for novels set in the orient I waited impatiently for The Commoner to arrive. I was not disappointed and could not put the book down. A reader will find nothing ordinary in Schwartz's writing. The author captivates the reader with detailed descriptions and smooth prose so that one feels like they are eavesdropping on the characters. This is a must read for all who appreciate excellent writing and a good story. I found myself caught between my desire to keep reading and dreading the novels end. I am happily looking forward to reading Schwartz's earlier novels
John (01/24/08)

Clash of old and new traditions
John Burnham Schwartz's latest book, The Commoner, is an interesting portrayal of the royal house of Japan. Haruko, the fictional Empress of Japan, is the commoner of the title. She gives up her voice - literally and figuratively - by agreeing to marry the Crown Prince. The novel explores her struggle to hold on to her roots against her duties and difficult mother-in-law. Schwartz's writing is sprinkled with beautiful imagery often associated with Japan - cherry blossoms, cranes, and the phoenix, but the use of this imagery cannot save the forced prose. The story - like an oriental Princess Diana story - tries to prevent Haruko has a marytered hero, but in the end - even when she helps her daughter-in-law deal with Imperial life - she comes more as coward forced into a moral decision that leaves her speechless. Haruko even loses her ability to speak, but once it is regained, she does not say anything of interest. The reader is left to infer to much about her character. In the end, this reader was generally to bored to infer.
Vicki (01/09/08)

The Commoner
Finally, an Asian historical fiction as good as Memoirs of a Geisha. Great read, The characters were vivid, the book well written and I was sorry to see it end. A fascinating novel.
Brenda (01/05/08)

Interesting and eye-opening!
The Commoner is an excellent and unique portrayal of a 'common' woman' shaped by the surroundings of the inner circle of court life in Japan and the intense struggles she embraces. As the story develops, the author clearly captures the stark double standard that exists following WW2 between the role of women in the Imperial family and the evolving role of women in Japanese society. I love reading books about other times and cultures... and the ending was so fitting!
Ruth (01/04/08)

Open your mind and heart to a “common” Japanese woman through reading an excellent story as told by a very good story teller.
The Commoner is a novel that captivated me from the title page to the last (read with mild regret), satisfying page of the book. It offered intimate details of the country of Japan, the totally believable characters, and the Imperial Court and it’s ceremony and traditions. John Burnham Schwartz ascended to my list of authors who tell a truly great story and evoke emotion and imagery that brought me to live with and among his wonderfully realized characters. Highly recommended for book clubs, people interested in the far east and post W.W.II history, and people who enjoy reading about relationships and how important they are in some people’s lives.
Nikki (01/03/08)

Worth a read
The Commoner was a very well-researched work of historical fiction. At times, I almost believed that I was reading an actual account of this woman's life. Though not a page-turner, I did enjoy learning more about the culture. Definitely worth a read!
Dorothy (12/31/07)

Redemption?
Haruko, the commoner, went against all custom of Japan and actually beat the next-in-line Emperor of Japan in tennis. The world of politics beyond her garden wall was of little consequence to her. It was actually her lack of experience with the game of politics and royalty that beguiled the crown prince to want her as his consort. But in doing so, Haruko shut the door on her previous life and all who presided there. "Life became a series of rituals written in another age."

Adding to this wall built around her, was the methodical withdrawal of her baby son by her husband's mother who subtly gives the care of Yasu to the servants. Haruko lapses into a breakdown caused by her broken heart.

In a time and culture when the dictates of royalty preside over individual desire and independence, Haruko submits to the control of the Japanese court and releases her right to hold her son; to hold her husband's hand in public; to publicly shed a tear for sorrow of joy.

Time, however, allows her the opportunity to become the Empress of Japan and the mother-in-law to her son's wife. Will she redeem the wrongs that have burdened her life, or continue to carry out the royal traditions? The portrayal of these historic characters written in sensuous prose evokes compassion and a deeper understanding of a world unknown to most.
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