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The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz

>> Thursday, July 24, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 351
Challenges: none

This is fiction that is clearly based on a real person. The heroine of the story is Haruko, who in the years following WWII, meets and eventually marries the Crown Prince of Japan. She becomes the first commoner to marry into the Japanese Imperial Family. It’s definitely a very thinly disguised story of the current Empress of Japan,
Empress Michiko. At least it is until the end which veers from reality (or does it?)

In some ways, this book reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha, a female character written by a man and some wonderfully written passages. It was interesting and even good, but yet I still felt somewhat let down. I wanted it to be excellent and it didn’t take that leap for me. Schwartz does a good job of telling the story as Haruko looking back on her life. The Haruko who is telling the story is a woman who has lived many years in the restrained and incredibly structured and oppressive world of the Japanese Imperial family who really do live in a world apart.

It is said that one crosses the moat only once in a lifetime.
Therefore the storytelling is restrained and even though Haruko is talking about her vibrant life before her marriage, it’s almost as if she’s become such a restrained person over the years that she can’t really tell the story of the vibrant young woman she once was.

On the other hand, I found myself searching online to find the real story about Empress Michiko and her family to fill in the gaps and add some real life to the story Shwartz presents in the book.

It’s hard to decide how I feel about this one. Part of me thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was good and part of me wanted a bit more.


Nicola 7/25/2008 11:11 AM  

I'm definitely interested in reading this one. Thanks for the review.

Teddy Rose 7/25/2008 11:48 PM  

Really nice review. This one is on my TBR.

SuziQoregon 7/26/2008 7:39 AM  

Nicola: I'll be very interested to see what other folks think about this one.

TeddyRose: thanks - I think the books where I have mixed feelings are the hardest to write about.

Bookfool 7/26/2008 4:01 PM  

Sorry, bad grammar attack. I meant, "May I?" of course.

SuziQoregon 7/26/2008 4:28 PM  

Bookfool - nice to hear another person who agrees with me about Snow Flower. (and I DO prefer to stick with SuziQ for online purposes (El slips occasionally on that)

SuziQoregon 7/26/2008 4:31 PM  

Reposting a comment from Eleanor with a minor edit:

Interesting review. I felt much this way about Lisa See's novel "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." I so desperately yearned for the women in this novel to have a voice that their time and strict social strictures never allowed them, but which See didn't give them. I felt conflicted about it like you did about this novel -- was it brilliance to maintain the emotional distance and thus make it authentic, or did it fail to do what great fiction can do -- give a voice to the voiceless in history?

SuziQoregon 7/26/2008 4:32 PM  

El: interesting that you mention Snow Flower - I just went back and checked my comments about that one -
"I had some mixed feelings about this book. I think the background of the cultural and societal stuff was actually more interesting to me than the actual relationship and story of Lily and Snow Flower. It was good and interesting, but not overwhelmingly good."

I'd have to say that my feelings about The Commoner are very similar.

SuziQoregon 7/26/2008 4:36 PM  

Reposting a comment from Bookfool with a minor edit (removing a name)

I know that feeling. And, actually, I agree with you and Eleanor about Snow Flower. It wasn't the captivating read I expected.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment. I read and respond them here although not always right away. If you would prefer an email response let me know.

I do moderate comments on posts older than 14 days in order to control spam. I will approve your legitimate comments as soon as I can.

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