For 'Opal Mehta,' End of Story, Publisher Says

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 2 -- A Harvard student's novel, withdrawn from shelves last week after it was found to contain passages copied from another author, will not be reissued, and the student's planned second novel will not be published at all, Little, Brown and Co. said Tuesday.

The announcement was made on the same day that new allegations of plagiarism were reported about Kaavya Viswanathan's novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," including one report that she had copied from famed author Salman Rushdie.

It was unclear Tuesday if Viswanathan's two-book contract, reportedly worth near $500,000, had been canceled, or if the publishing firm would seek to recoup any of the advance it paid her. A spokeswoman for Little, Brown declined to comment beyond a short written statement from the firm's publisher, Michael Pietsch.

Tuesday's decision not to republish Viswanathan's book seemed to reverse a promise the 19-year-old sophomore had made last Monday, shortly after the Harvard Crimson, a student newspaper, revealed passages seemingly copied from two coming-of-age novels by author Megan McCafferty.

"My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities," Viswanathan said then. She explained that the copying was "unconscious and unintentional," the result of reading McCafferty's books and internalizing her words.

Viswanathan did not respond to a request by e-mail for comment Tuesday, and neither did her literary agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh of the William Morris Agency. Attempts to reach a spokesman for Alloy Entertainment, a firm that reportedly helped Viswanathan write and market the book, were unsuccessful Tuesday evening.

The role of that firm could complicate the case if it ever becomes a lawsuit, since book packagers often share some of the advance money that normally would go to the author, as well as some of the creative oversight that would usually be the publisher's, said Charles E. Petit, an Illinois attorney who practices in publishing law.

"This would be an unholy mess as a lawsuit," he said.

"Opal Mehta" was the story of a teenager, like Viswanathan an Indian American from New Jersey, who must build a social life to get into Harvard. It had found a spot at No. 32 on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list before the copying was revealed.

Tuesday the Times reported that it had discovered similarities between Viswanathan's book and Sophie Kinsella's "Can You Keep a Secret?" Also Tuesday, the Crimson reported it had found other sections where "Opal Mehta" echoed Rushdie's "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" and Meg Cabot's book "The Princess Diaries."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company