Apr 26th, 2006 by ravi
Indian lit cuteness wears off

From Schopenhauer (serious) to the Beatles (trivial), the West has demonstrated a fitful fascination for things Indian. The latest (not counting the return of Yoga) has been Indian English literature — by which I mean not the modestly illuminating works of someone like R.K. Narayan, bot more the cutesy stuff such as the exotic prose of Arundhati Roy. Much was made of the Indian-American Kaavya Viswanathan's precocious work of fiction in the past year. Things have taken a turn for the worse and the below news item might signal the beginning of the end of this fad.

Young Author Asserts Copying Was Unintentional – NYT


Kaavya Viswanathan, the young author who has admitted copying parts of her chick-lit novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," said today she was troubled to see so many similarities between her book and two novels by Megan McCafferty.

"When I was writing, I genuinely believed each word was my own," the 19-year-old Harvard University sophomore said in an interview this morning on NBC's "Today" show.

She also said the similarities were unintentional, even though she admitted earlier this week that she had copied them, and she hopes Ms. McCafferty can forgive her.

"The last thing that I ever wanted to do was cause any distress to Megan McCafferty," she said. " I've been unable to contact her and all I want to do is tell her how profoundly sorry I am for this entire situation."

She has promised to revise her book and said she would acknowledge McCafferty in a foreword.

On Tuesday, the day after Ms. Viswanathan apologized to the author, the publisher of the two books she borrowed from called her apology "troubling and disingenuous."

Steve Ross, Crown's publisher, said that, "based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act."


Update: Author confesses to lifting material and the book has been withdrawn:

Publisher to Recall Harvard Student's Novel


Published: April 28, 2006

Just a day after saying it would not withdraw "How Opal
Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" from bookstores, Little,
Brown, the publisher of the novel whose author, Kaavya Viswanathan, confessed to copying passages from another writer's books, said it would immediately recall all editions from store shelves.


Update 2: Its not just one book:

Author may have copied from 2nd book
'Opal Mehta' has been pulled from retailers' shelves

BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) — A Harvard sophomore's novel, which was pulled from the market last week after the author acknowledged mimicking portions of another writer's work, appears to contain passages copied from a second author.

A reader alerted The New York Times to at least three portions of "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," by Kaavya Viswanathan, that are similar to passages in the novel "Can You Keep a Secret?," by Sophie Kinsella.

Some interesting links:

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7 Responses

  • Doyle Saylor says:

    Hey the plagiarism part seems an awfully big stretch. This book is for young women readers in a genre where everything reads the same to me whether the words are literally copied or not.

    Secondly, who counts the origins of writers as an impact by numbers? This very small blip trend possibly indicates the U.S. favoring India as an ally sort of like China between the world wars when we had a small string of Chinese peasant novels and horribly racist movies pro China and anti-Japan. But the Japanese movie eventually because of a seriously appealing esthetic made a big impact everywhere.

    At any rate the up coming medium of creation to me is not writing for books but creating for the internet. Books I would suggest are stodgy forms of entertainment at best. Not withstanding Harry Potter. What I see are nascent niche’s in the internet where popular forms like net photos, music, and movies have started to develop.

    It’s the support from the base for forms that make the forms profound eventually. Or not since some bases can’t financially support an expression. Krunk is likely to disappear because there is no way to develop professionals to a level beyond really good amateurs. Not unlike mathematicians 400 years ago.

    Leave the poor woman alone it’s simply creative copying just like all artists do.

  • Doyle Saylor says:

    Apparently she confessed to cribbing from the book directly. Which I’m not going to read the book in any case, but still doesn’t convince me of much about a young woman’s basically ‘romance’ fiction. It’s a tempest in a teapot. But the publishers looking for a good scape goat wanna pillory this and that’s that.

    Bah Humbug. All creativity stands upon the shoulders of those who came before. This is not an enlightened look at creativity by any means. This is junk pop culture.

  • ravi says:


    I agree that borrowing and extending prior work is a valid and necessary activity. That is an essential feature of another interest of mine: open source software development. However, it is also a basic issue of courtesy to credit one’s sources.

    Additionally, read this on NYT:

    Which goes into the way books are produced these days as some sort of processed output from a technological machine. These sort of modes deny much deserved attention to better writers and artists who may not have the access that a Harvard bound hotshot might.

    The same thing is happening elsewhere. Ever heard of Judith Polgar? She is a chess champion, ranked among the top 10 players in the world (not female players, but all players). Someone who has beaten Kasparov. But she does not fit the sexy profile that promoters want to push for women’s chess. Instead they are pushing a couple of lesser lights.

  • Doyle Saylor says:

    Oh Bearded One,
    Yeah I know about the Polgar sisters. What an amazing talent. I used to play and got out of chess because it was so male. Isn’t Judit (I think that’s how I remember her name being spelled a long time ago) a bit old these days for a grandmaster?

    I think your point about courtesy is probably right by me. But let’s try to go a little deeper?

    Warhol’s appropriations of pop culture images had a profound impact on me about so-called plagiarism (literal copying). With writing there is a subculture in academic writing to attribute to an author and a text that I think is really about how to do text based research. That’s the value of attribution and well worth preserving. Most of the issue for writers is not I think the ethics because these conversations are not that technical, it’s about being paid a living wage for the work.

    What I’m driving at is that attribution is a good area (technically or economically as Michael Perelman does in his writings) to expand upon in terms of the value of information to social structure. What’s the point of linkage work? What does it do to society?

    To me the best contemporary metaphor is Google. Even if the writer doesn’t attribute to her favorite writer Google can easily detect copying. But the larger question to me in terms of society is how do we merge information for everyone to use?

    You write,
    These sort of modes deny much deserved attention to better writers and artists who may not have the access that a Harvard bound hotshot might.

    I think the issue is the networked properties of text or other forms of art. We know capitalism is elitist. I’m not for kissing this young woman’s ass. But I think automation will address attention issues or attribution issues in ways which by pass whether or not someone is self involved or not courteous.

    As you know I’m involved in disability issues. What I work with is the whole topic of how mental disabilities just do all sorts of ‘anti-social’ things. That’s a hell of knot to untie.

    But I think it related to attention structure as automation takes over presenting information to people. Automation renders personal attribution devalued. It’s sort of like big science, various smarties do a lot of technical work but in the thousands on some physics experiment. The whole attribution process is usually ignoring the grunts and giving the experiment heads ‘credit’. But so what? It’s meaningless. The attribution process is really about how to quickly google information when you need it in a way that you can take in (pay attention). Listing all the sources of information is unworkable in that way. It might make sense in terms of some sort of machine network control, but not to anyone who has to use the info in the real world.

    This is far a field of the minor bit of fiction we are discussing but how I see the deeper issue.

  • Doyle Saylor says:

    I was looking at the Crimson examples. They aren’t literal copies, but similar content. I see where the publisher has killed the contract and permanently withdrawn the book. So she is finished.

    The probability analysis of the words to indicate plagiarism seems to me not quite right in how to understand thinking. Let’s take the market place where this woman hit the charts quickly. I remember in the bio film of Ray Charles that he sounded a great deal like Nat King Cole in his early career. Was Charles plagiarising Cole?

    It seems to me all I see is how corporate entities can legally shape the market place. But the scandal is amiss in some deep way about copying and human thinking.

    Suppose I took Plato’s Beard’s words and did a little re-write here? Copying in some sort of way, to make fun, or give homage? There is no commercial value to it so no one is going to go ballistic about the copying. All that is being ‘privileged’ is the commercial market value.

    I see that this is also an academic issue where creation is being challenged in a student context. Again this seems to me to question not so much the student but the academic environment. What seems to me is that the tools of the trade don’t admit to ‘copying’ in some way that is deeply entrenched in the commercial protection of intellectual property rights.

  • […] I have already posted on the Kaavya Viswanathan affair (plagiarization by the young Indian-American author), though I did not quite articulate what it is that bothered me about her. Below is an article from the Guardian that describes the difficulty that minorities have in getting published. A comment towards the qend of the quoted text describes my uneasiness: that minority writers are further disadvantaged by those (otherwise privileged) who play upon their minority status to open doors.  Guardian | Monica Ali and Zadie Smith are in the minority, finds survey Michelle Pauli […]

  • brent says:

    Nice site. Thank to work…

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