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"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an agèd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Oh Pale Mehta Got Plagued?

The controversy over the plagiarism allegations levelled against Kaavya Viswanathan (of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life fame) have come to such a pass that one has to fall back on Nietzsche to find solace - "There are no truths, only interpretations." Plagiarism is very tough to fight, because it concerns things intangible. Yann Martel and Dan Brown have both been accused of stealing ideas for their most popular novels. But what works against the Indian-American Harvard sophomore is the hard evidence against her.

It surprised me that the author could come back with only a tame, "I internalized Ms McCafferty so much that I thought I had the right to copy it over." Whereas the jury is still out on the truth in that apology, The Harvard Independent has rubbished it by quoting from some of her earlier interviews.

On April 15, Viswanathan wrote 259 words for the Times of India about her favorite books. She mentioned that she was currently reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty — "I like it a lot" — and she expressed her admiration for the works of Evelyn Waugh, P.G. Wodehouse, Henry James, Jane Austen, the Brönte sisters, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Dunnett, and Ian McEwan — hardly the stuff of mass-market chicklit. At school, she wrote, she keeps up with the belles lettres "by reading all the books that are short-listed for the Booker," a reference to the Mann Booker Prize for Fiction, a prestigious award for novelists from the British Commonwealth and Ireland.
The article also quotes her as saying she really liked Kazuo Ishiguro, when interviewed by UniversityChic.com

But one author Viswanathan never mentioned was Megan McCafferty. And while McCafferty's books aim at a young audience and contain romance, few would describe them as "old children's books" or "romance novels." If McCafferty's books had "spoke[n]" to Viswanathan "in a way few others did," she kept it to herself.
In another detailed article, Shane Wilson talks about how the book might have come through from the genesis of an idea to its entry into the bestseller list. Wilson claims that books by debutant authors pass through different hands, and that some of the content might actually be thrown in by others.

It is therefore quite possible that there is some truth in Kaavya's apology. When she said, "I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,' and passages in these books", she might have really meant what she said. Namely: I didn't write those passages. And I didn't even know there was a Ms McCafferty. Only when I was nailed down did I realise that it is not such a good thing to get others to write your novel.

The Crimson reports that Random House have called the author's apology "deeply troubling and disingenuous." Well, seems like there's going to be some serious fun!

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anand said...

Nice title that :-)

4/26/2006 01:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Vijay Krishna said...

Thanks, actually I wanted to name it "How Oh Pale Mehta Got F***ed Up?" - it would have been indicative of the book as well as the controversy!

4/26/2006 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger Sheks said...

i feel kaavya's age is being taken advantage of.was dan brown sued for plagiarism?

4/27/2006 01:35:00 AM  
Blogger jvpoirot said...

what is the fine she pays anyway? is it more than she 'earned' through this book? god knows!

-
jvpoirot

4/27/2006 02:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Vijay Krishna said...

@Sheky: Maybe. But the point we must realise is that the general public is a fickle lot. You become a celebrity overnight, and you must face the criticism. No one cares about Sania Mirza these days.

@Poirot: If the publisher let the book be formed by the "book packaging industry" then it is the publisher who will have to take the blame.

4/27/2006 02:57:00 AM  
Blogger Subro said...

The publishers themselves are planning to sue her, so is McCafferty. It would also be interesting to see what action Harvard takes against her. In an article in rediff.com, she is reportedly said to have apologised for her "genuine mistake", and since she apologised she expects Harvard to let go of the matter.

4/28/2006 01:05:00 AM  

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