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“Mama used to tell us a story about a cicada sitting high in a tree. It chirps and drinks in dew, oblivious to the praying mantis behind it. The mantis arches up its front leg to stab the cicada, but it doesn’t know an oriole perches behind it. The bird stretches out its neck to snap up the mantis for a midday meal, but its unaware of the boy who’s come into the garden with a net. Three creatures—the cicada, the mantis and the oriole—all coveted gains without being aware of the greater and inescapable danger that was coming.”

-Lisa See, Shanghai Girls

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“Social work didn’t make her happy, though. From one nonprofit to another, from city contracts to federal agencies, she kept running into the same systemic problems. ‘Nonprofits require you to sell your soul to the politicians. You have to fight for money against other agencies.’ She said bitterly. ‘Then I find there’s backstabbing everywhere. And they don’t really care about people. Keeping them poor is their business. As long as they keep them poor, they keep getting more grants and bigger budgets. Then, there are the volunteers. The message implicit in volunteering is, ‘You need me, I’m good. I’m better than you, you have nothing to give.””

Po Bronson interviewing Ana Miyares, What Should I Do with My Life?

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“Since moving to New York I’ve learned what the word ‘geisha’ really means to most Westerners. From time to time at elegant parties, I’ve been introduced to some young woman or other in a splendid dress and jewelry. When she learns I was once a geisha in Kyoto, she forms her mouth into a sort of smile, although the corners don’t turn up quite as they should. She has no idea what to say! And then the burden of conversation falls to the man or woman who has introduced us–because I’ve never really learned much English, even after all these years. Of course, by this time there’s little point in even trying, because this woman is thinking, ‘My goodness… I’m talking with a prostitute…’ A moment later she’s rescued by her escort, a wealthy man a good thirty or forty years older than she is. Well, I often find myself wondering why she can’t sense how much we really have in common. She is a kept woman, you see, and in my day, so was I.”

Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha 

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“In that hideous water, bodies floated past. Some were alive, calling out. A searchlight revealed a boy halfway up the anchor chain of a battle ship. Sailors dumped oil on him and he slipped back into the water. 

On the deck of the ship, three new French citizens looked back at the burning city, ablaze from end to end. The fire would continue for the next three days, the flames visible for fifty miles. At sea, sailors would mistake the rising smoke for a gigantic mountain range. In the country they were headed for, America, the burning of Smyrna made the front pages for a day or two, before being bumped off by the Hall-Mills murder case (the body of Hall, a Protestant minister, had been found with that of Miss Mills, an attractive choir member) and the opening of the World Series.”

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex