The Commoner

John Burnham Schwartz, Author
John Burnham Schwartz, Author . Doubleday/Talese $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-51571-9
Hardcover - 326 pages - 978-1-60285-221-1
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-1-4000-9605-3
Open Ebook - 978-0-307-47242-7
Compact Disc - 5 pages - 978-0-7393-5873-3
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-385-52554-1
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-20348-8
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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 entrée 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.)

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