Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz

The Commoner takes place in 1959 Japan and is the story of how Haruko, a young woman from a good family, comes to marry the Crown Prince. She is the first commoner to ever marry into the mysterious and cloistered world of the monarchy. What makes this union so remarkable, aside from the fact that Haruko is a commoner, is that she and the Prince marry for love. Unfortunately, their love is not enough to overcome the restrictions and hostility of the insular world behind the palace walls. Haruko is never fully accepted by either the Prince's mother or her cronies. After giving birth to a son, which is basically all she is really needed for, Haruko literally loses her voice and descends into a deep depression. Slowly she recovers and when her son becomes a man and marries a commoner, Haruko decides to take the girl under her wing and show her the kindness that was so cruelly withheld from Haruko herself.

Before reading this book, I didn't realize that the premise of this story is based on the lives of the current Empress of Japan, Michiko and her daughter-in-law, Princess Masako. I only learned that later when I was reading other reviews of this book. I must say that I was very disappointed in this book. The characters were very two-dimensional and I was never able to fully engage with any of them or the story as whole. It's really too bad, because I think this could have been a very interesting book. Overall, the plot felt very flat and dull. It's not terrible, just bland. Unfortunately, it's not a book I would recommend. What a shame, it had such great potential.

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