The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz

MOTOKO RICH “How a Japanese Empress Inspired an American Literary Prince”

米国の作家John Burnham Schwartzの新作The Commonerのヒロインは日本の皇后をモデルにした女性である。Motoko Richさんの紹介によると、”Told from the point of view of a fictional doppelgänger for Empress Michiko of Japan, the book traces the story of how the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family was, at the age of 24, exposed to brutal public scrutiny and the unyielding rigors of royal life, robbing her of her identity and sending her into a crushing depression.” また、

With a quiet layering of details, “The Commoner” follows Haruko Endo from her childhood through a heady courtship by the crown prince. When she marries him, Haruko begins a life of miserable isolation in which not even her children are truly her own. In the book’s final quarter Haruko sees her life reflected in the suffering of her daughter-in-law, Keiko (modeled on the real-life Crown Princess Masako), also a commoner who marries into the royal family.

The idea that the life of the empress might make a compelling novel first occurred to Mr. Schwartz a decade ago, when a family friend, the children’s book editor Margaret K. McElderry, published a collection of Japanese poems translated by Empress Michiko. After the publication Ms. McElderry met with the empress in Japan and told Mr. Schwartz how the empress had quizzed her about her life.

“It was almost as though the empress were asking about a life that, under different circumstances, might have been her own,” said Mr. Schwartz, who speaks in the long, clause-rich sentences that punctuate his writing. “It made me aware of an imagination still going on in her, and at the center of that imagination a sense — probably a deep sense — of loss.”

Just over three years ago he secured a book deal with a five-page proposal for what became “The Commoner.” He read books and news articles and trolled the Internet for details about the empress’s life. The factual contours — her education at a convent school; summers spent in Karuizawa, a resort town where she met the crown prince on a tennis court; and an episode of depression following the birth of her first son, when she lost her voice for several months — all appear in the book.

Then the novelist took over. “You can keep connecting her to real life through any number of historical details, but you are writing about a person who does not otherwise exist,” Mr. Schwartz said. At one point he traveled to Japan for more research. Through connections he landed lunches with a childhood friend of the empress and with the emperor’s grand chamberlain, a senior adviser.

At lunch with the grand chamberlain, Mr. Schwartz explained his project. The chamberlain offered to help, and Mr. Schwartz replied, “What I really want to know is, what colors are the carpets?” The chamberlain laughed but did not answer.

grand chamberlainは侍従長か。

ところで、1950年代のCIAによる米国国内の大学や労働組合等への工作活動をドキュメントしたHugh Wilford The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America(Harvard University Press)という本が出たらしく、社会学者のNathan Glazer氏が書評を書いている*1