Told in the voice of Haruko, meticulously researched and superbly imagined, The Commoner is the mesmerizing, moving, and surprising 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.
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 womana rising star in the foreign ministryto accept the marriage proposal of her son, the Crown Prince. The consequences are tragic and dramatic.
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"Starred Review. Schwartz pulls of a grand feat in giving readers a moving dramatization of a cloistered world." - Publishers Weekly.
"A unique literary adventure, intimate, exotic; wonderfully imagined and achieved. The narrative impels the reader from first to last immersing us in its flow of ancient acceptances and new demands. Splendid." - Shirley Hazzard, author of The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire.
"The details of life for upper-class Japanese during and after World War II are fascinating, as are the rituals of the Imperial court, 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." - Kirkus Reviews.
"An artful meditation on the limits of love and duty. This novel will thrill readers who crave literary romance." - People.
"Fans of Memoirs of a Geisha will savor [The Commoner] . The delicate, hairline fractures in Haruko's story are all the more heartbreaking for being so restrained." - New York Daily News.
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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.
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