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Thursday 12 March 2009

Aneeta Sundararaj Plagarises Pearl S. Buck Stories in Malaysian Fiction

by Suzan Abrams
in Dublin

Malaysia: Plagiarism

I bought this book of Malaysian short stories a few months ago in Kuala Lumpur. I could only find them in one bookshop.

Snapshots is made up of a collection of short stories by 3 Malaysians, Aneeta Sundararaj, Saradha Narayanan and A. Jessie Michael. It is edited by Craig Cormick and said to be published by Oak Publication Sdn. Bhd. although this appears to be more of a distributor, judging from their web content.

At least 2 of the longer short stories as I have discovered for the moment; Enchanteur and Brought Back to Life by Aneeta Sundararaj, are plagiarised from the late Nobel Prize Winner, Pearl S. Buck's collected short stories. A complete bibliography of Buck's collected short fiction is available from Wilkipedia where the titles can be obtained and also ordered from Abe Books. Otherwise, just contact the plagiarist for the original version.

The ideas, central themes, stuctures, narrations, characterisation and plots have been lifted off the original, almost in their wholeness. I had read all of Pearl S. Buck's short stories as a teenager, her books easily available in the school library and recognised the stolen stories at once. They were my favourites. The titles of these short stories, are of course concocted by the plagiarist.

I also recognise another copied story and have my suspicions on the rest since once you know a person has stolen 2 stories, it is hard to imagine any creativity or originality for the others.

The stolen stories are actually older American versions and without featuring the Chinese. Buck was famous for penning stories stretching both cultures. These tales have long stayed out-of-print and would be very difficult to trace. I am surprised that I had read them all as a teen enough to remember them with clarity. They are gathered together with other modern American stories.

Briefly, the first stolen story , Enchanteur deals with Pearl S. Buck's own version of a beautiful woman who climbs aboard a train and attracts the attention of a weary American executive after office hours. She is so beautiful that she steals his breath away. I remember Pearl S. Buck using the line "she was in a class of her own." That was the first time I ever came across such an apt description of beauty - an outstanding league to a physical consciousness - if you like and never forgot it. Then later after the train ride, the man's plain wife comes to meet him at the station and notices the beautiful woman. At once, there is a heavy reflection of the marriage from the man's point of view. He compares beauty to plainness and describes his wife as nothing more than pleasant. She takes him home, there are guests to entertain and all the while, the husband makes notes on how a good wife is so much the greater blessing then another who drips with fanciful beauty. The entire plot takes place within the space of an evening. The story is highly profound and Sundararaj plagriarises this deep introspective tone for herself while also stretching the copied plot along the same time frame.

On becoming a fashion journalist with Female magazine in Kuala Lumpur/Singapore for several years, I remember using this specific fictitious episode as a guideline with which to measure my own expectations of beauty with regards to fashion.

Sundararaj couldn't have picked a worse story to plagiarise. Hers is the carbon copy from start to finish of the original idea, form, structure, narration, movement of the plot, characterisation etc.

The only difference is that in the stolen version, she changes an American version to a Bollywood one. I say Bollywood because the couple is Indian and the setting is Malaysian... a Malaysian car, a Malaysian suburb etc. Instead of friends dropping by in the evening, in this case, it's relatives. Instead of martinis, it's curries, if you get my drift. Just a bit of tweaking here and there.

In the second story, Brought Back to Life, Pearl S. Buck reveals the story of a family's visit round a dying patient in the hospital. The close-knit family recalls life's most profound moments and an eavesdropping patient receives new inspiration and hope. Sundararaj plagiarise this story for herself as well, claiming Buck's tale as her own. I remember the long conversations very well. Again, expect a bit of tweaking. Buck drew up a truly heartwarming tale. If I am not mistaken mango trees were originally apple trees in Buck's version.

Open the cover of Snapshots and Aneeta Sundararaj has not given any credit at all to Pearl S. Buck. Instead there are rather threatening disclaimers warning the reader against copying any of the stories and claming them all to be imaginary.

In the middle of all these, it says: Copyright belongs to the respective authors. This is my confirmation that Sundararaj lies, as the original copyright of these 2 whole plots and characters that I have outlined above, belongs to Pearl S. Buck's trustees. The seriously tampered versions belong to Sundararaj.

She also promoted these stories heavily on the web and received lavish praise from her blogger friends who applauded her 'literary talent' over the stolen stories.

What makes it worse is that I remember these writers giving a lengthy newspaper interview or two in Malaysia, where each one, including and especially the plagiarist, talked about how difficult it was to 'compose' the stories.

I have the book of stolen stories with me at the moment.

In the past, Sundararaj did once self-publish a novel called The Banana Leaf Men but splattered with grammatical errors. I still have my copy. They were the kind of sloppy errors designed to provoke literary agents and publishers to high annoyance. Hence, goes the reputation of every other smarter ambitious self-published author. However, it was a washout and long removed from the bookstore shelves. Later, she opened a website called HowtoTellAGreatStory.com offering international editing services with what I considered to be steep American dollar rates. In Kuala Lumpur, the cost of living is low.

More curiously, in her website, she also rolled out lengthy articles on how not to plagiarise stories. Very much resembling the situation of how for instance, a man who murders his wife would help a search party look for her corpse in disguised agony.

I suspect a third copied story as well but will check up on this when I have the time and inclination to do so.

At the moment, all the other names of writers, the editor, printer and publisher in and of Snapshots, stand alongside stolen literary property.

Added 16th March 2009 - Another Case of 'aneeta' plagiarism uncovered.

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