I’ve been following with riveted attention the story of Kaavya Viswanathan, the 19-year-old Harvard sophomore whose $500,000-advance chick-lit novel “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” was pulled by its publisher, Little Brown & Co., after it turned out that numerous passages were allegedly plagiarized from at least four other chick-lit novels plus an story by Salman Rushdie. Eat your heart out, James Frey!
The Harvard Independent (hat tip: Ross Douthat, who’s almost as fascinated as I am) has all the details of Kaavyagate, including the strange and intertwined financial/literary relationship among Viswanathan, her ambitious doctor-parents, an outfit called IvyWise that for $40,000 will help spruce up a teen-ager’s life to make her look interesting to an Ivy League college, and another outfit that “packages” books for sale to some of those same teen-agers (Viswanathan and/or her parents were clients of both firms). The strangest thing is that poor Kaavya, who was supposed to have written the novel at age 17 but was allegedly said by one of her teachers at Harvard to be lacking in writing ability, may well not have committed plagiarism–because she may well never have written a single word of “Opal Mehta.” The book packager, 17th Street Productions, employs teams of ghostwriters who regularly craft fiction that appears under other writers’ names.
At any rate, although Little, Brown may have pulled the book (and canceled its agreement to publish a second Viswanathan opus), it’s still for sale on Amazon. And its purchase price has skyrocketed from $21.99 to up to $129, due to relative rarity. If I were Mr. and Mrs.Viswanathan, I’d try to recoup some of my bill from IvyWise by auctioning off the free copies that Kaavya undoubtedly received as an author. Plus, “Opal Mehta” has a great cover, featuring, as all good chick-lit book-covers do, a pair of killer shoes. Way to go, Kaavya!