Thursday, March 4, 2010

Book Report: The Commoner

The Commoner is our latest book club selection. I actually loved this book, my friend Audrey hated it. So there you have it. 2 readers. 2 opinions.

The Commoner is a fictional novel about the marriage of the Crown Prince of Japan to a commoner by the name of Haruko, the birth of their son, and their son's eventual marriage to a commoner. The story is loosely based on the lives of the current Japanese Emperor and Empress--Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

I guess it's because we grow up reading fairy tales like Cinderella, but dreaming about being married to a member of a royal family always sounds so romantic. Not so, apparently. Witness poor Princess Diana. And, now this book that portrays life for a woman within the Japanese Royal Family as a type of prison.

Haruko and the Crown Prince meet on the tennis courts. Haruko is headstrong, smart, beautiful, ambitious, and independent--it doesn't take the Crown Prince long to set his sights on her. After their marriage, Haruko is bullied by her mother-in-law to the point of a mental breakdown. Haruko's only worth to the royal family is as bearer of the royal heir (male, of course).

Now that I've read this book, I've put Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne on my booklist. It's an unauthorized biography of the real-life wife of the current Crown Prince of Japan. Like the fictional Haruko's future daughter-in-law, Masako is the Harvard-educated daughter of a diplomat who grew up in various cities around the world, speaks more than six languages, and worked as a diplomat herself before marrying.

Since her marriage, poor Masako has been cloistered in the imperial court trying to produce a royal heir. Unfortunately for Masako and the rest of Japan, she's only had one child--a girl, and that didn't happen until 9 years into the marriage. Masako--now 46 years old--has been suffering from severe depression since 2002 and rarely ventures into public.

Tragic waste of potential, huh?

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