The Commoner: A Novel Audiobook, by John Burnham Schwartz Play Audiobook Sample

Download The Commoner: A Novel Audiobook

The Commoner: A Novel Audiobook, by John Burnham Schwartz Play Audiobook Sample
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Author: John Burnham Schwartz Narrator: Janet Song Publisher: Random House Audio Audio Length: Release Date: January 2008 Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download ISBN: 9781415946176

Publisher Description

It is 1959 when Haruko, a young woman of good family, marries the Crown Prince of Japan, the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne. She is the first nonaristocratic woman to enter the mysterious, almost hermetically sealed, and longest-running monarchy in the world. Met with cruelty and suspicion by the Empress and her minions, Haruko is controlled at every turn. The only interest the court has in Haruko is her ability to produce an heir. After finally giving birth to a son, she suffers a nervous breakdown and loses her voice. However, determined not to be crushed by the imperial bureaucrats, Haruko perseveres. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman–a rising star in the foreign ministry–to accept the marriage proposal of her son, the Crown Prince. The consequences are tragic and dramatic. Told from Haruko’s perspective, meticulously researched, and superbly imagined, THE COMMONER is the mesmerizing, moving, and surprising story of a brutally rarefied and controlled existence at once hidden and exposed, and of a complex relationship between two isolated women who, despite being visible to all, are truly understood only by each other.

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Quotes

  • “[An] impressively imagined and often exquisite act of ventriloquism…[Burnham Schwartz is] unusually sensitive to the Japanese habits of reticence and indirection…What is singular and most striking about The Commoner is how deeply and authoritatively it inhabits the mind and the sensibility of a young Japanese woman.”

    - New York Review of Books
  • “A mesmerizing novel full of tenderness and compassion, one that convincingly invests the Japanese empress’s voice with all the nuance it demands.”

    - Washington Post
  • “Schwartz leaps with prodigious skill…Through painstaking research and a humane sensibility, he has opened a window on a strange, cloistered world.”

    - Wall Street Journal
  • “Schwartz is a keen observer of Japan…You can sternly remind yourself every few pages that this is fiction, or you can relax and enjoy the fantasy that you are privy to two of the most private public lives in the world.”

    - Los Angeles Times
  • “Instead of overwhelming a reader with the amount of research he must have done, Schwartz instead selects evocative details to paint finely wrought miniatures of the past.”

    - Christian Science Monitor
  • “[Schwartz] finds the heartbreak, the wistfulness and the poignancy within this world, demonstrating how easy it is to be trapped.”

    - Philadelphia Inquirer
  • “As an author who has aimed for a clean, transparent style throughout his career, Schwartz finds his perfect subject in this tale of Japanese royalty. Fans of Memoirs of a Geisha and royal gossip will savoir it.”

    - Daily News
  • “The Commoner is a story about conservative Japan’s begrudging evolution. You’ll find humanity’s struggle in there, too. The research on post-war Japan rewards readers with fascinating scenes…and the writing bristles with a calculated swing.”

    - Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • “Brave is the novelist who casts a narrative in a voice that traverses gender and a cultural divide. Schwartz makes the gambit pay off, impressively, in The Commoner…[He] does a superb job of conveying the painful sense of isolation that comes from living in a cloistered world.”

    - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • “Schwartz is a master novelist.”

    - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • “A subtle, finely wrought fiction that evokes Jane Austen…A tour de force; the creation of a wholly convincing Japanese heroine by a male American writer reflects the triumph of imagination over experience.”

    - San Jose Mercury News
  • “It is very difficult for a twenty-first-century reader to comfortably enter the restrictive tradition that seems, even now, to be the Imperial Court…While the external details of life in the palace remain stunning, it’s Schwartz’s grasp of the internal struggle that resonates after the last page is turned.”

    - Denver Post
  • “The beauty of the story, besides the meticulous research, is the human dimension…Schwartz has written a powerful, instructive book.”

    - Tampa Tribune
  • “A riveting narrative, smoothly written and often heartbreaking…The Commoner offers a fascinating, in-depth look at an ancient world of courtly institutions, formal performance, and individual negation.”

    - Providence Journal
  • “[The Commoner] paints a carefully researched, evocative picture of a country that emerged from World War II with everything blown apart but its moat-protected heart…Schwartz opens a gilded window into a seldom-seen world and the traditions that have sustained a monarchy through centuries, only to threaten the young lives needed to carry it into the future.”

    - USA Today
  • “Expertly evokes the sense of powerlessness and isolation that mark both royal life and bad marriages…An artful meditation on the limits of love and duty.”

    - People
  • “Schwartz pulls off a grand feat in giving readers a moving dramatization of a cloistered world.”

    - Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “This story is as ethereal and sensual as a Japanese watercolor, as magical and dark as a fairy tale.”

    - Booklist
  • “The Commoner is a lovely book, quiet, rich, fascinating in character and details, beautifully written.”

    - Anne Lamott, New York Times bestselling author of Traveling Mercies
  • “A unique literary adventure, intimate, exotic; wonderfully imagined and achieved. The narrative impels the reader from first to last, immersing us in its flow of ancient acceptances and new demands. Splendid.”

    - Shirley Hazzard, New York Times bestselling author of The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire
  • “A fascinating and moving book in which great harm—all the more painful for being quiet and impersonal—befalls characters who, with one exception, are entirely innocent and sympathetic. The Commoner is a rare novel, wonderfully researched and beautifully written.”

    - Peter Matthiessen, New York Times bestselling author of Killing Mister Watson

Customer Reviews

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  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " Book club book (my pick for first round): I liked this story of a commoner who marries into the royal Japanese family, and her struggles with tradition. I think it was well written for a male author, but he may not have captured exactly the way a woman would have thought/acted in all situations. "

    - Ida, 2/12/2014
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " i enjoyed this one. lots of interesting background on Japanese culture. Pretty amazing how it is so similar to the royal hierarchy in England, etc. sad story line. didn't like the ending...but fascinating story in all. "

    - Helen, 2/11/2014
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " this was not a very interesting book. I read it very quickly and would not recommend it. "

    - Margaret, 2/11/2014
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " Up to the point where she loses her voice, the book was gripping. Neat imagining of the Japanese empire from the outside female perspective. But after her breakdown, it lost energy for me. Still, a pleasant read for a snow day. "

    - Amanda, 1/26/2014
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " THe first part of this book was great. The second part, not so much. Its worth reading but I think the author is trying to fit way too much history into a short book and therefore the second half of the book is very disjointed. "

    - Sarah, 1/20/2014
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " Took me awhile to get into this book, but I found it oddly satisfying. A fascinating look into an oppressive society where one's duty trumps personal aspirations. "

    - Jeanne, 1/19/2014
  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5

    " Utterly fascinating book. Even though I have read a lot of books about Japan, the world this book describes so vividly, is something to far from my everyday life here in podunk Sanford that I was really intrigued. "

    - Nae, 1/9/2014
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " Very easy read, kept me on my toes. Very intersting look at life of royalty and culture of Japan. Really liked it. "

    - Niloofar, 12/30/2013
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " Interesting insights into Japanese culture; ending a bit far-fetched. "

    - Alyaaf, 12/21/2013
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " A fascinating, well-written insight into life in the Japanese royal family. "

    - Joie, 12/21/2013
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " This book relates the story of the marriage of a young Japanese woman and the post WWII Japanese Prince Consort and her life in the restrictive Imperial Court. I found it a most interesting portrayal of a one woman's loss of self for love over time. "

    - Cheryl, 12/15/2013
  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5

    " Absolutely loved this book -- a fictional account of the life of the Empress Haruko of Japan, the first commoner to marry into the Japanese royal family. Makes me glad I'm not royalty! Saw a lot of comparisons to the life of Princess Diana. "

    - Paula, 12/6/2013
  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5

    " The story of a common woman who marries the future emperor of japan. Sometimes we wish to be princesses. After this book, you would never wish that again. A love story and a story of how a life is distroyed by priviledge and roles in life set by ancient ancestors. "

    - lorrie, 8/4/2013
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " A lovely quick read. The Commoner is the story of a young Japanese woman who is the first comman woman to marry into the royal family. It is a marriage of love and lonliness for an eduacated traveled woman. The book moves at a quick pace and is sympathetic to all of the characters. "

    - Psirene, 1/1/2013
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " I liked the storyline well enough but never felt like I got to know the characters. The story just skimmed quickly along the surface and then it was over and I was left underwhelmed. "

    - Alison, 12/31/2012
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " Left me thinking, is love really enough to bridge the gulf between a commoner and the crown prince of Japan..Very descriptive writing.. a good, but sad (to me) story. "

    - Carol, 9/7/2012
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " I liked this book. Living the "royal life" is far from exciting. Old traditions are not released easily. "

    - Pat, 8/5/2012
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " Meh. I was often aware that the author had no experience whatsoever with being a woman. I am sure he has no experience as the Emperor either, but it seems that he at least attempted to study the life of one when writing this book. "

    - Kate, 7/22/2012
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " November 2010 Book Gals discussion. "

    - Jean, 4/26/2012
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " interesting historical fiction on Japan's royal family "

    - Nminnig, 10/24/2011
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " I had a hard time getting into this book, but stuck with it based on the fact that Michelle gave it to me to read. I ended up finding it interesting and sad. "

    - Jill, 8/14/2011
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " What a disappointment! The writing was weak. The story was interesting enough because of the actual history that I was looking up information on the Japanese Imperial family when I was through. But this story was lacking in the telling. "

    - Angie, 8/11/2011
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " I probably should have stopped reading halfway through. Not sure why, but it just fell flat for me. "

    - Jenny, 5/24/2011
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " What an enjoyable well written novel. Schwartz describes the solitary life of the crown princess of Japan in the early 1960's so well that it makes me wonder how anyone would want to do this job at all especially when it seems that your only worth is to produce a male heir. "

    - Veronica, 5/22/2011
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " What perfect timing for this read with Kate and William married just as I finished. The story is very even keeled (read slightly boring) with a good overall story providing you can stay awake long enough to finish it. "

    - Penny, 4/23/2011
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " What's with Asians and sad stories? I think some of them thrive on them. Although, don't get me wrong, I love Memoirs of a Geisha, and that's sad too... "

    - Bluelily3, 4/11/2011
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " Remarkable how this author was able to give us a woman's 'voice'. Beautifully written with enough history to bring us background. We always think we want to be the princess in the fairy tale but this shows that the "happily ever after" isn't always. "

    - Elsie, 3/21/2011
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " Fascinating study in what the life of a cloistered royal is like with all its limitations. Set in Japan based on their royal family, but could easily apply to Britain or other places where the monarchy demands a certain level of behavior from its members, including those who marry into it. "

    - Sue, 3/14/2011
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " I liked the storyline well enough but never felt like I got to know the characters. The story just skimmed quickly along the surface and then it was over and I was left underwhelmed. "

    - Alison, 3/9/2011
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " Interesting look into the Japanese monarchy, but ultimately unstatisfying. "

    - Kathleen, 3/9/2011
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " THe first part of this book was great. The second part, not so much. Its worth reading but I think the author is trying to fit way too much history into a short book and therefore the second half of the book is very disjointed. "

    - Sarah, 3/8/2011
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " Opression of women in the name of nobility. It crushes even the strongest soul. "

    - Debra, 2/25/2011

About the Author

John Burnham Schwartz is the author of several novels, including Claire Marvel, Bicycle Days, and Reservation Road. His books have been translated into more than fifteen languages, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times and New Yorker. He lives with his wife and their son in Brooklyn.

About the Narrator

Janet Song is the recipient of multiple Earphones Awards and was named one of AudioFile magazine’s Best Voices of 2008. Recent audiobooks include Euna Lee’s The World is Bigger Now and Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls. She lives and works in Southern California as an actor on stage and screen.