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The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
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Sep 23, 2010

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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 or so pages were a bit slow, but I became engaged in the story after that.

I found it difficult to believe that, as Empress, Haruko could not help her bright, suffering daughter-in-law. Can the Empress and Emperor really not control the Court? Is it really an entity so full of ritual and history it can't be changed even by the royal family who are so affected by it? Or, was it just that the Empress as a woman had no power? I would think the story was too far fetched if we didn't know that the current Empress and Crown Princess are suffering from "attitude adjustment" problems.
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