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Kaavya Viswanathan ’08 faces new allegations that her novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” borrowed material from earlier works.
While the newly-uncovered similarities between “Opal Mehta” and works by Salman Rushdie and two other authors are not as striking as the previously revealed parallels to Megan McCafferty’s books, the allegations raise fresh questions about the originality of Viswanathan’s novel.
But few—if any—“chick-lit” works have ever received the level of intense scrutiny that “Opal Mehta” is now enduring. And it is not clear whether the new allegations suggest further plagiarism, or whether Viswanathan is simply employing tropes that are widely-used in the genre.
The 19-year-old author of “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” said last week that any similarities between her book and McCafferty’s “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings” were “unintentional and unconscious.”
Now she appears to have borrowed passages from Salman Rushdie’s “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” and Meg Cabot’s “The Princess Diaries.” The New York Times also reported similarities between “Opal Mehta” and Sophie Kinsella’s “Can You Keep a Secret?” In each of the cases, the passages in question are short but contain similar rhymes and descriptions.
Page 12 of Meg Cabot’s 2000 novel “The Princess Diaries” reads: “There isn’t a single inch of me that hasn’t been pinched, cut, filed, painted, sloughed, blown dry, or moisturized. [...] Because I don’t look a thing like Mia Thermopolis. Mia Thermopolis never had fingernails. Mia Thermopolis never had blond highlights. Mia Thermopolis never wore makeup or Gucci shoes or Chanel skirts or Christian Dior bras, which by the way don’t even come in 32A, which is my size. I don’t even know who I am anymore. It certainly isn’t Mia Thermopolis. She’s turning me into someone else.”
The italics appear in the original.
And page 59 of Viswanathan’s novel reads: “Every inch of me had been cut, filed, steamed, exfoliated, polished, painted, or moisturized. I didn’t look a thing like Opal Mehta. Opal Mehta didn’t own five pairs of shoes so expensive they could have been traded in for a small sailboat. She didn’t wear makeup or Manolo Blahniks or Chanel sunglasses or Habitual jeans or Le Perla bras. She never owned enough cashmere to make her concerned for the future of the Kazakhstani mountain goat population. I was turning into someone else.”
In Rushdie’s “Haroun,” a 1990 children’s novel, the title character Haroun enters a bus depot and passes by several admonitions written on the walls surrounding the depot’s courtyard. Likewise, in Viswanathan’s novel, the protagonist helps another student place posters on a wall that discourage drug and alcohol use.
On page 35 of Rushdie’s novel, one of the warnings reads: “If from speed you get your thrill / take precaution—make your will.”
On page 118 of Viswanathan’s novel, one of the posters reads: “If from drink you get your thrill, take precaution—write your will.”
On page 31 of Rushdie’s novel, another warning reads: “All the dangerous overtakers / end up safe as undertaker’s.”
On page 119 of Viswanathan’s novel, another poster reads: “All the dangerous drug abusers end up safe as total losers.”’
However, the Times reported yesterday that rhyming road signs are common along expressways in India.
The Times also found that three similar passages exist between “Opal Mehta” and Kinsella’s “Can You Keep a Secret?”.
According to the Times, page 350 of Kinsella’s novel reads: “‘And we’ll tell everyone you got your Donna Karan coat from a discount warehouse shop.’
“Jemima gasps. ‘I didn’t!’ she says, color suffusing her cheeks.
“‘You did! I saw the carrier bag,’ I chime in. ‘And we’ll make it public that your pearls are cultured, not real...’
“Jemima claps a hand over her mouth.
“‘...and you never really cook the food at your dinner parties...’
“‘...and that photo of you meeting Prince William is faked...’
“‘...and we’ll tell every single man you ever date from now on that all you’re after is a rock on your finger!’ Lissy finishes. I shoot a grateful glance at her.
“‘OK!’ says Jemima, practically in tears. ‘OK! I promise I’ll forget all about it. I promise! Just please don’t mention the discount warehouse shop. Please. Can I go now?’”
Page 282 of Viswanathan’s novel reads: “‘And I’ll tell everyone that in eighth grade you used to wear a “My Little Pony” sweatshirt to school every day,’ I continued.
“Priscilla gasped. ‘I didn’t!’ she said, her face purpling again.
“‘You did! I even have pictures,’ I said. ‘And I’ll make it public that you named your dog Pythagoras...’
“Priscilla opened her mouth and gave a few soundless gulps.
“‘And that you couldn’t get a date to the freshman fall dance, so you had to take your cousin...’
“‘Okay, fine!’ she said in complete consternation. ‘Fine! I promise I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll talk to the club manager. Just please don’t mention the sweatshirt. Please.’”
The Times also reported that two other passages from Viswanathan’s book bore similarities to the Kinsella work.
Viswanathan did not respond to a request for comment.
The Crimson learned of the similarities between “Opal Mehta” and both “Haroun” and “The Princess Diaries” through e-mail tips. The “Princess Diaries” similarity was found on the online weblog DesiJournal. Viswanathan has defended her writing in the past by stating that she “internalized” McCafferty’s books, and that she has a photographic memory.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that Dreamworks, which bought the movie rights to “Opal Mehta,” has halted production of the film. The article cited “a source close to Dreamworks.”
Dreamworks representatives did not respond to several phone calls and e-mail requests for comment over the past two days.
—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer David Zhou can be reached at email@example.com.
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