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Kaylyn Koberna, winner of the Letters About Literature Level II prize covering grades seven and eight

Dear Pearl S. Buck,

Long after I turned the last page of your masterpiece, Imperial Woman, one image lingered. A slim woman stood in her royal chambers, surrounded by ladies in waiting. She was clothed in brilliant silk robes, her haunting grace and beauty accented by gems that sparkled at her every motion. Set in the midst of her raven-black hair was the crown of the Manchu Dynasty. When her jeweled fingers beckoned, servants appeared to attend her every wish. She was surrounded by luxury and beauty, the center of China's world. Despite all that she had, however, she was not content.

As I began your novel, questions filled my mind. How was it possible for Tzu Hsi, Empress of China, to be surrounded by such splendor and not be satisfied? How could she have so many possessions, and not possess what she desired? And how could someone surrounded by so many feel alone? As your book unfolded, I realized how possible it was to be surrounded by everything and everyone, and not have anything.

I was at a loss to understand why Tzu Hsi's life wasn't perfect. I would have given anything to lead a life like hers. Never content with who I was, the way I was, I constantly thought. ..if I were like this, if I owned that, if I did this, everything would be perfect. I was confident that all I needed to be content was the jewelry, clothes, beauty, intelligence and charm that Tzu Hsi possessed. Yet with it all, she was not satisfied. Why?

The more I read, however, the more I slowly understood. What she was missing in her life were emotions. She could never marry the man she loved; instead she was wed to the Emperor, for whom she had no feelings. Her only son bonded more closely with his aunt than his own mother. Her most trusted advisers often turned against her. And although Tzu Hsi had dozens of servants, she had no friends, because none were considered her equals.

All of this deprived her of love, trust and friendship. In a way she lived two lives: one filled with gems, servants, fine clothes and vast palaces. In the other she was trapped in a loveless marriage, betrayed by those she turned to for advice, resented by her own son and without one close friend. The more I read the clearer it became. It was simple: her beauty, jewels, clothes, and servants, could not take the place of emotions and they would never give her a perfect life.

I would be lying if I said that after reading Imperial Woman I never wanted to be different than I am. I still feel sometimes that if I were amazingly beautiful and clever, with all the best clothes and jewelry, I would have the perfect life, although I know I wouldn't. I've discovered that I already have the love, friendship and trust that make a perfect life; I just never knew it.


Kaylyn J. Koberna


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