Carly's Reviews > The Commoner

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
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's review
Apr 19, 2017

liked it
bookshelves: i-own-but-have-to-read
Read from April 16 to 19, 2017 , read count: 1

~*~* spoilers below ~*~

Very fast, enjoyable read. The author’s decision to have Haruko recount her past from a distanced point of view shut me out from understanding her character. For the hundred plus pages she spent talking about her childhood and her life prior to meeting the Crown Prince, all I know is that she enjoyed playing tennis, and attended a religious school. Those could have easily been summed up in a few paragraphs, rather than a hundred pages. I like how connections or missed connections are a huge theme of this novel; especially the scene when Haruko went to an art museum and mused that if she had accepted the man’s invitation to tea(?), she might have ended up with him and led a normal life rather than the imperial life she ended up choosing. It’s probably the only striking image of this novel that sticks in my mind, which is weird because it is such a tiny detail in the whole novel. Having lived through WW2 and its effects, she in turn makes history as probably the last Empress of Japan. I could poignantly feel Haruko’s suffering through what was left unsaid. Yet, I would have liked her to explain it in depth or at least have more surrounding actions/imagery/etc. for her suffering. I don’t really know how to review this novel, as I only have very limited knowledge of what the Japanese court was like in the latter 20th century. To be honest, I am surprised there is still an imperial family in Japan, and that these characters mirror Japan’s actual history too (including the “adjustment disorder,” and being unable to birth a male heir). I wish there was something more profound or thought-provoking that I could gain from this novel, rather than just reinforcing the idea of how outdated and strict the imperial court is, especially with the suffering of women. I would have liked to see more depth in Haruko’s relationships with everyone; her husband, her husband’s mother (the Empress), her children (!!)...just anyone. Overall, enjoyable, but I wouldn’t pick up the novel again as it does not satisfy me completely.


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