Publisher drops ‘Opal Mehta’ for plagiarism, ends book deal

Last Updated Tue, 02 May 2006 18:30:31 EDT

CBC Arts

The debut novel by a Harvard sophomore that faces allegations of plagiarism has been permanently withdrawn and her two-book deal cancelled.

Harvard sophomore and author Kaavya Viswanathan is facing new allegations that her book has passages that resemble the work of Salman Rushdie, Sophie Kinsella and Meg Cabot. (Chitose Suzuki/AP)

Publisher Little, Brown and Company announced cancellation of the deal for Kaavya Viswanathan’s How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, and a promised second novel, Tuesday.

The book was pulled from stores last week after Viswanathan apologized for unintentional similarities to the work of author Megan McCafferty. Little, Brown promised at that time that a revised version would be published.

However, the book was further tarnished this week by allegations it contained additional passages that mimic work by other authors.

“Little, Brown and Company will not be publishing a revised edition of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by Kaavya Viswanathan, nor will we publish the second book under contract,” Michael Pietsch, Little Brown’s senior vice-president and publisher, said in a statement.

The New York Times, the Harvard Crimson and the weblog DesiJournal uncovered passages in Viwanathan’s book that are similar to writing by Salman Rushdie (Haroun), Sophie Kinsella (Can You Keep a Secret?) and Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries ).

When compared side-by-side, the newly discovered passages in Viswanathan’s book are obviously similar in style, cadence and construction to those by the other authors.

For instance, in Rushdie’s children’s novel Haroun, the title character encounters posters bearing slogans such as “If from speed you get your thrill / take precaution – make your will.”

In Viswanathan’s book, her character Opal Mehta helps another student put up posters bearing slogans like “If from drink you get your thrill / take precaution – write your will.”

However, rhyming signage like this is common along roadways in India, the Times acknowledged in its story published Monday.

Another example comes from Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret. In one scene the main character, Emma, comes upon two friends “in a full-scale argument about animal rights,” and one says, “The mink like being made into coats.”

In Viswanathan’s book, Opal encounters two girls having “a full-fledged debate over animal rights.” One of them says: “The foxes want to be made into scarves.”

Web community uncovered similar passages

The internet, e-mail, blogs and reader input have all contributed to and facilitated the intense scrutiny on Viswanathan’s novel.

McCafferty has said that e-mails from fans first alerted her to the fact that multiple passages in Viswanathan’s much-touted new book resembled those in her own titles Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. A call from a reader tipped the Times off to the additional passages while bloggers have been poring through Viswanathan’s novel and comparing notes online.

The Harvard Crimson, the university’s daily newspaper, broke news of the similarities on April 23. By the end of the week, Viswanathan had issued a statement acknowledging she had mimicked portions of McCafferty’s books but that it had been “unintentional.”

Her publisher, Little, Brown, pulled her book from stores last week and the Los Angeles Times reported that Dreamworks has halted production on an upcoming film adaptation of the book.

Some questioned whether the new instances of similar phrasing and passages in Viswanathan’s book were indicative of literary constructions and writing techniques common in the “chick lit” genre.

Questions have also been raised about the fact that Viswanathan, as part of her contract with Little, Brown, was working with 17th Street Productions (now Alloy Entertainment) to complete her novel. The company, which develops and produces books and other media properties for teens, is responsible for hit novels such as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and the popular Gossip Girl and Sweet Valley High book series.

Source: CBC
http://www.cbc.ca/story/arts/national/2006/05/02/opal-cancelled.html

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