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Plagiarism controversy heats up as authors demand review of Penguin Canada novel

The road to English-language publication for Chinese-born, Toronto-based Ling Zhang’s second novel, Gold Mountain Blues, has not been especially smooth, but it appears to have hit yet another speedbump.

Earlier this year, allegations of plagiarism were levelled against Zhang by a blogger in China, who claimed the book borrowed from the work of several well-known Chinese-Canadian authors, including Wayson Choy, Paul Yee, and Denise Chong. At the time, the novel’s Canadian publisher, Penguin Canada, was in the process of having the book translated into English; neither Choy nor Sky Lee, another author whose work was allegedly plagiarized, could comment because neither read Chinese.

Choy, Lee, and Yee were sent the English translation on Aug. 22, after Penguin Canada had decided, on the basis of a comparative analysis by Nicky Harmon, that the plagiarism allegations were baseless. One problem: Harmon is the English translator of Gold Mountain Blues.

Now, the Toronto Star reports that Choy, Lee, and Yee have signed their names to a letter sent this past Monday requesting that Penguin Canada delay publication of the novel until an independent review can be conducted. From the Star:

If Penguin Canada is taking these allegations seriously, as it claims, then it should be prepared to pay for and obtain a truly independent, unbiased, professional comparison of the works at issue, says the letter sent by [law firm] Fasken Martineau intellectual property specialist May Cheng.

Gold Mountain Blues “ described by Penguin as in the epic storytelling tradition of Amy Tan ¦ A rich saga chronicling the lives of five generations of a Chinese family from Guangdong “ is expected to be a massive bestseller and has already been sold in 12 territories including the U.K. and Canada.

The article also quotes Penguin Canada commissioning editor Adrienne Kerr as saying, Please know that we would not proceed with a publication that infringes on the rights of any author, as a matter of respect, professional courtesy and corporate policy. Penguin Canada vice-president Yvonne Hunter is quoted as saying the allegations are “simply unfounded.” Hunter goes on, We have had legal opinion and nothing in this book is plagiarism. We are hoping that the public will read the book and decide for themselves.

That may be difficult, if the signatories of Monday’s letter get their way. Zhang’s novel is due to be published Oct. 8.