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The Commoner

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  4,673 ratings  ·  793 reviews
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 inte ...more
Hardcover, 353 pages
Published January 22nd 2008 by Nan A. Talese (first published January 1st 2007)
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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 ·  4,673 ratings  ·  793 reviews

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Feb 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: japandemonium
why only three stars?

1) i shouldn't have to wait 150 pages to finally care about a book. the book hardly held my attention while haruko was still a commoner. i did feel life from her friend miko and miko's brother kenji, but their presence was too limited to make it plausible that haruko had led a full, free life before entering the royal family. if anything, she seemed rather boring and free of ambition, the je ne sais quoi that others would call dynamism or a spark.

2) i wanted to know why she
Feb 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people with patience for a slow story with little pay-off
I found this book slow and deliberate and repetitive. I was intrigued by the premise: a first person narrative by the Empress of Japan who was, in her youth after WWII, the first commoner ever to marry into the Imperial family. Unfortunately, this excellent idea for a fascinating plot in a rare and exclusive setting tiptoes along, dwelling on uninteresting details and never really allowing the reader to experience any of the character's emotions through her stilted re-telling.

This is the first b
Dec 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I really wished I could have liked this better than I did but the author only made me feel as if I were seeing a thin veneer of the characters. In actual life there was tons of drama going on with the imperial marriages and I didn't feel any of it in the writing. A lack of real knowledge about the inner workings of the imperial household probably was the reason for some of it.

For me, though, the ending was where it all fell apart. It was too improbable and made me briefly flirt with the idea of
Oct 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebooks
OK. so being a Princess in Japan is akin to a life in prison. I got it! the first time. The second time. The nth time. Surely, even in the Japanese royal household, there is more to write about than the Commoner's tears, and even her depression. We learn nothing about this woman, except that she wields a wicked tennis racquet. She loves her Mommy and Daddy.

We know the Prince, breaking with all tradition, wants to marry her, but we never know why. In the long history of the Japanese Empire, neve
Jul 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
I probably would have given this 3 1/2 stars if I could. I did enjoy the book. It was an interesting topic and had beautiful language and occassional moments of true feeling, however, I feel like the author was at times trying to hard to be profound- the kind that really just passed me by but then I wonder if it is just me- did I miss something- am I just not smart enough to get it? So maybe for someone else it would be 5 stars who knows. As an example, here is a quote from the book: "And mornin ...more
Mar 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My royal novel of choice is usually something about the British royal family – so “The Commoner” was a quite a refreshingly regal change for me. And that said - I loved every graceful, delicate word of it. The author’s light touch and poignant tone captures the grace and humility of the Japanese imperial culture until you are immersed within the painful intricacies of palace life. Based on Japan’s real-life royal family, the book takes you on the journey of two generations of Japanese Crown Prin ...more
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Listened to this on "audio" and quite enjoyed it. More than loosely based on truth this novel gave insights in the burden of being a "royal." After reading it I wanted to research a bit more about this "commoner" and her husband who were the first to break with Japanese royal traditions. ...more
Kaffeeklatsch and Books
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was quite a fascinating read. I also watched the last royal Japanese wedding on YouTube. I simply had to have a look at the costumes and garments.
Beautifully written book with an ending I enjoyed.
Charles Matthews
Dec 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
They lived happily ever after, all those Disney princesses swept off to the castle by their golden coaches and flying carpets. But real-world princesses are not always so happy. One word: Diana.

The ill-fated princess of Wales was probably on John Burnham Schwartz’s mind as he wrote his terrific new novel, “The Commoner,” but uppermost on it were two other princesses: the one who became the current empress of Japan, the former Michiko Shoda, and her daughter-in-law, the current crown princess, w
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully nuanced and researched historical fiction about the current Empress of Japan Michiko. Her childhood name was Haruko, and she is the first commoner to marry into the Japanese monarchy. The monarchy is the oldest of all monarchies at present. The pressure placed upon her and later her daughter-in-law was horrific. The rituals and traditions, although often beautiful and profound, served as a virtual prison for Haruko and later Keiko. They were not raised immersed in the history and tra ...more
Sep 23, 2010 rated it liked it
This spare, formal book was a fictional account not too unlike the real Empress Michiko and her daughter-in-law Crown Princess Masako. Both are commoners who married into Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne.

Schwartz, an American man, has Haruko, a Japanese woman, narrate her story of growing up in Tokyo during WWII, marrying the prince, and the difficulties she experiences isolated in the emotionally barren Imperial Court. I enjoyed the detail of the ritualized life of the royal family. The first 100
Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it
While generally an interesting story, I did not enjoy this as much as other fiction about the Japanese and Chinese Imperial courts. It seemed about 2/3 of the way through the author lost steam and then rushed through the rest of the Princess' life. If the book had ended on page 285 after a particularly lovely paragraph that sums up then entire point of the book, it would have been more enjoyable for me. 2.5-3 stars. ...more
Tammy Corbett
Jul 22, 2014 rated it liked it
ok book, but not enough details. felt that the reader didn't really get to know the characters other than superficially. ...more
Rosie Fakkema
Oct 26, 2020 rated it liked it
I really liked parts of this book but some parts just dragged.
Mary Soderstrom
Jul 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Royal Babies: The Commoner While We're Waiting for Kate to Give Birth
There's been a lot about the impending birth of the new third in line to the British throne: the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton was due to give birth July 13, but didn't. Probably a good thing because the British press reports that Prince William was out playing polo on Saturday.

But as the royal watchers wait with bated breath, I've been thinking about an American novel about a royal couple who have a very dif
Jul 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
In The Commoner, John Burnham Schwartz takes a real life story about the Crown Prince of Japan marrying a commoner and turns it into a novel. The heroine, Haruko, catches the eye of Japan’s most eligible bachelor, promptly beats him at tennis (twice) and succumbs to the attraction of both the man and the fairy tale.

“At every turn, sometimes subtly and sometimes crudely, the same lesson was driven home: the world would greet me with abject deference not because I deserved or wished it but becaus
Connie G
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Crown Prince of Japan married Haruko, the first commoner to become part of the Japanese Imperial family in 1959. Haruko entered a world of ceremony and tradition, isolated from the rest of the world. The Empress, her husband's mother, treated her with contempt and complained about her constantly. From the day she married the Prince, her duty was to bring a son into the world as an heir to the throne, and her beloved Yasu was born. It was a lonely life for Haruko with no friends and no privac ...more
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
John Burnham Schwartz tends to write with a degree of formality, which works well in this story of a Japanese woman from a good family who becomes the first commoner to marry into Japan's royal family.

The bare bones of the story will strike those who live in Japan as familiar - the crown prince and his bride (in this story, Haruko) meet on a tennis court in Karuizawa. Under the constant scrutiny of the court, Haruko becomes so stressed that she loses her voice for several months. Finally, she c
Apr 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: made-me-cry
This has to be hands-down one of the most moving books I've ever read. Haruko is a wonderful character - someone you'd love to meet. The book submerges you in the character of post-war Japan and the Imperial Family. Unlike other monarchies - and despite Princess Diana's complaints - the Imperial Family of Japan probably has more pressures than others. I just loved this book and could hardly put it down. It was hard at times to realize that it was just a novel. ...more
Dec 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
I was mesmerized by The Commoner. I felt the visceral claustrophobic isolation that must be reality for the exalted (and scrutinized) Empress of Japan who started out being a regular girl. Schwartz did a fine job of making the reader experience the deprivation and sadness that opulence and privilege and duty demanded of his subject. It’s not necessarily good to be the queen.
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
I loved this slow, uneventful, richly layered novel. The self-restrain of the protagonists who are trapped into a gilded, lonely life they did not choose but yet devote themselves to out of a sense of responsibility and honor is hard to watch. There is never a false note and I felt transported into that world. It sure made me rethink my childhood dream of becoming a princess when I grew up!
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
The beginning where we see her as a young girl was slow moving but necessary to understand her struggles as a princess and then as the empress. This book got me intrigued about the real royal family of Japan. It's amazing that this was all in the 20th century. ...more
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Elegant storytelling. Especially in the first chapters (when the authorial voice is new) there's an almost haiku-like poetic feel to the sentences at times ...wholly in tune with the story. This is thinly veiled history, and therefore intriguing, as it fleshes out suspicions hidden behind the imperial walls. Again, that favorite topic, the struggles of women to assert equality in social constructs that make that struggle a blood sport. Hurrah for the heroine: she survives, and is currently the E ...more
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think listening to this book made a big difference in how much I enjoyed it. The setting is Japan after the war with all major characters being Japanese. Class and position in society is integral to this story. The nuances and intonation of the language, wonderfully performed by narrator Janet Song, would have been interpreted differently in reading and I felt that they were very important to the understanding of the personalities and state of mind of the characters, and to the time and rarefi ...more
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, it was given to me and I knew nothing about it. It was informative and engaging.
Judy Shirley
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very well researched interesting book about the life of a commoner married to the Crown Prince of Japan. What a difficult life, living totally inside the palace grounds, surrounded at all times by court supervisors, unable to make any decision on your own. Excellent writing, easy to read.
Book Concierge

Set in Japan, beginning shortly before World War II, this novel tells the story of Haruko, a young woman from a very good family. She is coming of age as Tokyo rebuilds after the war, and she gets a taste of the outside world when her best friend writes letters from America, where her father is a diplomat. She is lovely, educated and accomplished, and Haruko attracts the attention of several suitors. The summer after she completes her university studies, Haruko and her family take a summer
Jul 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 imp ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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John Burnham Schwartz grew up in New York City. At Harvard College, he majored in Japanese studies, and upon graduation accepted a position with a prominent Wall Street investment bank, before finally turning the position down after selling his first novel. Schwartz has taught fiction writing at Harvard, The University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Sarah Lawrence College, and he is the literary d ...more

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