In this national bestseller from the author of Reservation Road, a young woman, Haruko, becomes the first nonaristocratic woman to penetrate the Japanese monarchy.
When she marries the Crown Prince of Japan in 1959, Haruko is met with cruelty and suspicion by the Empress, and controlled at every turn as she tries to navigate this mysterious, hermetic world, suffering a nervous breakdown after finally giving birth to a son. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman to accept the marriage proposal of her son, with tragic consequences. Based on extensive research, The Commoner is a stunning novel about a brutally rarified and controlled existence, and the complex relationship between two isolated women who are truly understood only by each other.
Schwartz's novel of the young woman, not of royal heritage, chosen to marry Japan's crown prince after WWII, is a delicate portrait of a simultaneously blessed and circumscribed existence. The book is written in the first person, making a female reader the obvious choice, and Janet Song rises to the occasion. Song's voice hushed, placid, deeply gentle lends a minimalist beauty to Schwartz's novel. Song thankfully skips the accents and stylized voices, choosing to emphasize a careful, vigorous reading that conveys a (perhaps stereotypically Western) sense of Japanese calm. The result is a deeply soothing reading. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday/Talese hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 22, 2007).