Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Let's stop kicking Kaavya

I'm no fan of Kaavya Viswanathan, but I'm going to defend her against the accusation that she has plagiarized a second novelist. From what I've seen so far, this latest charge is ludicrous.

This morning a friend sent me this link to a USA Today article:

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.

While the plots of the two books are distinct, the phrasing and structure of some passages is nearly identical, the Times reported Tuesday.

In one scene in Can You Keep a Secret, which was published by Dial Press, 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."

"The foxes want to be made into scarves," one of them says.

The similarity of the animal-rights arguments is a little troubling, but if I didn't already know Viswanathan was a plagiarist, I'd have given her the benefit of the doubt in this instance. That's why I was disgusted to read the following:

There are also similarities in details and descriptions. Jack, the love interest in Kinsella's novel, has a scar on his hand; so does Sean, the romantic hero in Opal. Jack has "eyes so dark they're almost black;" so does Sean.

That's it? Those two examples of "similarities in details and descriptions" were the most egregious the tattletale could cite? I have a scar on my hand, too. So that similarity between the books hardly suggests plagiarism, not unless the scars of both heroes are shaped like five-pointed stars or something. (Mine's a crescent moon.) And if a hero having eyes "so dark they're almost black" is plagiarism, then half the romance novels I read last year should be yanked off the shelves.

This is ridiculous. If anybody has some real examples of plagiarism, trot them out. Otherwise, maybe we should stop trying to manufacture evidence against Ms. Viswanathan, who already has some very serious charges to answer. If we're going to start scrutinizing books with magnifying glasses or employing computer programs to find "similarities" to prove plagiarism, then every author I know is in trouble.


Anonymous said...

I agree, Brenda. How have the migraines been lately? I hope you've been feeling better! You're in my prayers.

Cyber Hugs,


Manish said...

The other passage is much more convincing:


Nitin G Gokarn said...

In India , plagiarism often goes unnoticed or probably knowing the legal machinery and the attached costs and pressures , one does not really take on a copier. But Kaavya should have known better (being in US ) than anyone else, that she was likey to be "caught" stealing - her apology notwithstanding. Like many others , I too dont buy the theory that she is innocent or it was a mistake or was done out of naiveity. Atleast some who has some best sellers to her record should have assiduously eschewed the copying. Nonetheless, one feels extremely sad for Kaavya for more than one reason. Firstly , she has Indian roots so we all genuinely feel for her since I am an Indian . Second , she has done a mistake , admitted it and paid a price by being lambasted and has become infamous over the world. She has learnt her lessons at 19 , and would definitely never ever do such an act again. Lastly , and more significantly, people have committed more horrendous crimes from murder to other acts of cruelty and barbarism and yet are walking freely in society. In this context Kavya's "crime" pales into nothing ! Spare a thought for this Indian daughter. Everybody is going for her - some had to be a devils advocate.

Shannon Stacey said...

I blogged about this very thing just this morning, so maybe---by the standards of the NYT---we're plagiarizing one another.

And while there may be stronger examples out there, I don't care for the NYT implying to the general public that the examples they cited in their article are strong enough to make an allegation of plagiarism.

Brenda Coulter said...

Exactly so, Shannon.

Manish, thanks for the link. That looked like an excellent, well-written post. I say "looked like" because I stopped reading halfway through it. I just couldn't take any more of those excerpts. I don't find chick lit appealing, and plagiarized chick lit is even less worth my time.

Mr. Gokarn, I do feel sorry for the young woman. But in this whole mess, it's not Indians I've been thinking less of, but bloggers. Why are we so eager to kick people when they're down? Most of the blog posts on this subject contain some very unattractive glee. Oh, good, she's done it again; isn't this juicy stuff? We just can't wait to report that she has copied from yet another bestselling novel, and what I want to know is why. The case against her has been strong from the beginning. Isn't it past time that we moved on?

Jade, sweetie, thanks for your prayers. My CT scan was clear, but the headaches continue. It's still a mystery.

Winter said...

Oh, great! Now I'm gonna have to change my Hero's eye color or I'll be branded a plagiarist. :)

I think it's time to move away from the girl and focus on other issues. Like why a book so loaded with lies got to become a movie? DVC

That's my .02 on the deal.

Steve said...

Does creativity have any copyrights? Yes it does. A sentence in English in a novel is not a statement in Java written in basements of Chennai and Bangalore! It's not 1<2 logic going around here with could be copied using the famous Ctrl+c and used using the infamous Ctrl+v all he time!