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BOOK REVIEW: THE COMMONER
BY JOHN BURNHAM SCHWARTZ

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From the outside looking in, the royal family of Japan seems exotic, secretive, ceremonial, and remote. Once or twice in a generation we see photographs of gorgeous traditional robes and costumes, and read brief press releases announcing engagements, marriages, and births. But what really goes on in the family relationships inside that mysterious circle?

Using some factual incidents in the early lives of the current Emperor and Empress as a fram for his story, author Schwartz has written a very thoughtful, fictional analysis of thet world of the Japanese court, and of the lives of two fictional women who join it. In a parallel to the actual events, two women who are not of royal birth marry Japanese princes. And most readers will already know that the current Empress and the current Crown Princess were commoners before their marriages.

Schwartz has obviously done a lot of thinking about what their lives must be like. He follows the life of Haruko, a young woman from a wealthy privileged family, who discovers to her surprise that she has attracted the attention of the Crown Prince and that he hopes to marry her. With the grudging acquiesence of her parents, Haruko accepts the Crown Prince's proposal. She is not in the slightest prepared for what her life becomes and in important and trivial conflicts with the royal household, she discovers that her husband will not, and perhaps cannot, support her.

Years later, when her daughter-in-law, another young woman not of royal birth, faces an emotional crisis, Haruko acts in a startling breach of tradition and duty. It would be revealing far too much to describe the closing events of Schwartz's remarkable narrative. Let me just say that the moment of truth caught me by surprise, and left me thinking.

What is the appropriate response when confronted by the psychic and emotional price of loving another person? When do the demands of duty and responsbility become too high a price to pay when measured against personal peace of mind? Schwartz does not conclude his narrative with any clear answers to those questions, perhaps rightly so. Real life can never be defined by an easy set of multiple choice decisions.

REVIEWED BY WOODSTOCK

DO NOT REPRINT WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE REVIEWER, WOODSTOCK


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