Publisher Pulls ‘Opal Mehta’

Viswanathan’s London book tour cancelled; Little, Brown will revise ‘Opal’

Four days after Kaavya Viswanathan ’08 came under scrutiny for possible plagiarism in her novel “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” her publisher yesterday asked stores across the country to pull the book from their shelves.

In a statement yesterday, Little, Brown—the publisher that reportedly gave Viswanthan a two-book, $500,000 contract—asked stores to send back any unsold copies of “Opal Mehta.” The move came only a day after Michael Pietsch ’78, senior vice president and publisher of Little, Brown, told The New York Times that the publishing house would not withdraw current editions of the novel from bookshelves.

The sophomore’s novel contains numerous passages that are strikingly similar to those found in two books by Megan F. McCafferty, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings.” In a statement on Monday, Viswanathan apologized to McCafferty and said that any similarities between the texts were “unintentional and unconscious.”

Viswanathan also said Monday that she will revise her book to take out all of the “inappropriate similarities” between “Opal Mehta” and McCafferty’s novels.

“We are pleased that this matter has been resolved in an appropriate and timely fashion,” said Tina Constable, vice president of Crown Publishers, which published McCafferty’s novels, in a statement last night.

McCafferty said yesterday in a statement that she is not seeking restitution “in any form.”

“In my career, I am, first and foremost, a writer,” McCafferty said. “So I look forward to getting back to work and moving on, and hope Ms. Viswanathan can too.”

At the Harvard Book Store last night, Ben Newcomer, a supervisor, said that he had not yet received any request from Little, Brown to withdraw and return the store’s copies of “Opal Mehta.”

He added that the furor over the alleged plagiarism had not significantly increased sales of the book.

“I don’t really see any bump because of the scandal,” he said, consulting a computer.

A small stack of “Opal Mehta” copies continued to be displayed on a table at the front of the store.

One hour before the Harvard Coop closed last night, the book was still prominently featured in the glass case outside of the Mass. Ave entrance. Stacks of “Opal Mehta” and McCafferty’s two books were displayed together at the information desk inside. A manager at the Coop, Nancy Scheirer, declined to comment.

Viswanathan’s planned book promotional tour in London next week has also been nixed, according to Jenny Fry, a publicist for Time Warner Books.

“She is not coming over to the U.K. anymore,” Fry told the Guardian. “It is cancelled.”

Viswanathan told the Times on Wednesday that some of the similarities may have occurred because she has a photographic memory and has read McCafferty’s novels three or four times each.

But Random House, which published both of McCafferty’s novels, said in a statement Tuesday that Viswanathan’s explanation was “deeply troubling and disingenuous.”

Pietsch told the Times on Wednesday that the publishing house would not sue Viswanathan for breach of contract. Most book deals include clauses stipulating that its content must be original, according to Justin Hughes, the director of the intellectual property law program at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law.

—Material from the Associated Press was used in the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer David Zhou can be reached at dzhou@fas.harvard.edu.