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Indian American author accused of plagiarism

Kaavya Viswanathan, accepts unintentional plagiarism from two earlier novels of Megan McCafferty, in her debut novel.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 13:05 IST

Teenage Indian American author Kaavya Viswanathan, who has been accused of plagiarism in her debut novel, has acknowledged that she did borrow language from another writer's books but said the act was 'unintentional and unconscious.'

Viswanathan, the 19-year-old author of the best-selling novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, said that she was not aware of how much she had 'internalised' from two earlier novels by former Cosmopolitan editor Megan McCafferty.

The web edition of The Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper of Harvard University, had created a stir by pointing out similarities in passages between Viswanathan's novel and Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings by McCafferty.

Viswanathan, then 17, had created waves in the literary world when Little, Brown & Co. with her debut work, signed her for a two-book contract.

Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore, said, "When I was in high school I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, which spoke to me in a way few other books did."

"Recently, 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."

While claiming that the plot of her book differs from McCafferty's, she said, "I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalised Ms McCafferty's words. I can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. I sincerely apologise to Megan McCafferty."

"But Ms McCafferty's books, published by Crown, a division of Random House, are, like Ms Viswanathan's, about a young woman from New Jersey trying to get into an Ivy League college - in her case, Columbia, while Ms Viswanathan's character has her sights set on Harvard."

"Like the heroine of Opal, Ms. McCafferty's character, Jessica Darling, visits the campus, strives to earn good grades to get in and makes a triumphant high school graduation speech."

The Harvard Crimson had cited 13 instances in which Viswanathan's book resembled McCafferty's work and added that there are at least 29 passages that are strikingly similar.

One such instance cited by The Times is the passage when the heroine in Viswanathan's book bumps into her love interest.

It goes like this: Though I had been to school with him for the last three years, Sean Whalen and I had never acknowledged each other's existence before. I froze, unsure of (a) what he was talking about and (b) what I was supposed to do about it. I stared at him.

In her book Sloppy Waters in which the heroine unexpectedly comes across her love interest, McCafferty wrote: Though I used to see him sometimes at Hope's house, Marcus and I had never, ever acknowledged each other's existence before. So I froze, not knowing whether I should (a) laugh (b) say something (c) ignore him and keep on walking.

Michael Pietsch, senior vice-president of Little, Brown & Co., said, "We consider this a serious matter and we are investigating it immediately."

He added, "Viswanathan is a decent, serious, incredibly hardworking writer and student, and I am confident that we will learn that any similarities in phrasings were unintentional."

A spokesperson for Crown, McCafferty's publisher, said that a reader had noticed the similarities between the books. That person then told McCafferty who then alerted Crown, which, in turn, alerted the Little, Brown legal department.

"We are waiting to hear from Little, Brown & Co," the spokesperson said.