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John ​Burnham Schwartz bases his fourth novel on the Empress Michiko and Crown Princess Masako of Japan. Though Japanese imperial life remains shrouded in mystery, Schwartz teases out the details through extensive research. Much to the astonishment and pleasure of the critics, he gives Haruko an authentic and completely convincing voice. While his vivid depictions of postwar Japan are stunning, it is Haruko’s vibrant inner life that propels the narrative and resounds with readers. Though not as intense as Reservation Road (1998), Schwartz’s unflinching portrayal of the aftermath of a child’s death, and though slightly marred by an implausible ending, The Commoner will captivate readers by providing a haunting look into the 2,000 years of secrets surrounding the Chrysanthemum Throne.

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