Monday, May 08, 2006


by Patty

I admire the economy of a language (German) that packs so much meaning into only one word—Schadenfreude—especially when English needs an entire phrase to describe the word’s meaning: pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Schadenfreude seems to be on everybody’s lips these days because of author Kaavya Viswanathan.

According to Mark Morford’s Notes and Errata:

It happens to you, it happens to me, and it is apparently spreading like a virulent STD over at Harvard, where ferocious and hyper-competitive superteens are taking unbridled glee in the shockingly fast rise and equally brutal fall of Kaavya Viswanathan, the now-infamous "prodigy" student and burgeoning novelist who, in case you haven't heard, signed a six-figure book deal at age 17 and sold the film rights to her first novel (the now-infamous and eBay-riffic "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life") to DreamWorks before it was even completed -- but who also, it turns out, just so happened to have lifted dozens of passages of her novel -- many nearly verbatim -- from, well, upward of a half-dozen other chick-lit authors. Whoops.

Of course, what Viswanathan did was dishonest and merits censure. Compounding the problem, when her plagiarism was exposed she failed to fall on her sword. Instead, she blamed her parents for putting too much pressure on her to excel. She also claimed that the word theft was unintentional because she has a photographic memory. If your eyebrow is arching in skepticism, you aren’t the only one.

Still, why all the venom from her peers? Did she publicly gloat over her accomplishments or do we humans have a mean-gene that kicks in when success seems too much too soon?


  1. Poor Kaavya is not only enduring schadenfreude but she is now a pechvogel suffering from weltschmerzen, indeed a host of teutonic maladies. Gott im Himmel.

  2. I'm wondering if tolerance for writerly shenanigans is lower now than it might otherwise be, based on the recent noise around James Frey, et. al.

  3. I was wondering the same thing, Rae. The controversy certainly didn't knock Frey off the Bestsellers list. So, if I copy long passages from Dostoyevsky and hope that nobody will notice until after my appearance on Oprah, I'm ahead of the game. Right?

    David, you is one funny guy. Dare I ask what a pechvogel is? A bird of ill-luck?

    And, CONGRATULATIONS TO MY BLOG MATE, CORNELIA! Today is the official pub date of A Field of Darkness!

  4. I think it has more to do with the fact that she got half a million bucks for it. If she hadn't gotten such an enormous advance there wouldn't be so much controversy around it and chances are nobody would have even heard of it.

    But with that much money it opens her up to be a target. Even if she had fallen on her sword, I doubt it would have made much difference.

    She was put on a pedestal. I have no idea what her grades are like, or what sort of person she is, but I suspect that she's gotten an image of being privileged. Essentially given money and fame before she had even written a book, and then to be going to Harvard? I'm not surprised the hate is flowing.

  5. Patty, Yeah, the pechvogel is an unlucky bird. I lived in Germany for four years and my neighbors were all Turks. No one owned refrigerators so there were beer bottles lining the windowsills. A bottle fell on my pal's head and the landlady said "was fuer einen pechvogel." She also told us to soak his socks in vinegar to prevent brain damage. It worked!

  6. So in essense the Viswanathan situation was a literary "perfect storm."

    Funny story, David. Did the feet have to be in the socks?