- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Reversal of fortune

“How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” the chick-lit debut novel by Harvard University sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan, has been withdrawn permanently by the book’s publisher — which also canceled her hefty two-book deal as mounting claims of literary borrowing continue to pile up against her.

Little, Brown and Co. will not publish a revised edition of “Opal Mehta,” nor will it publish a second book, Michael Pietsch, Little, Brown’s senior vice president and publisher, said Tuesday.

Little, Brown, which initially said the book would be revised, declined to comment on whether Miss Viswanathan would have to return her reported six-figure advance, Associated Press reports.

The decision caps a stunning downfall for Miss Viswanathan, 19, a Harvard sophomore whose novel came out in March to widespread attention. The author, who was 17 when she signed the deal, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

“Opal Mehta” initially had modest sales, but interest in used editions of the book remains strong enough that it was the No. 58 seller on Amazon.com on Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Record of Bergen County in northern New Jersey said it will review the news articles Miss Viswanathan wrote for the 180,000-circulation daily paper while an intern in 2003 and 2004.

Little, Brown pulled “Opal Mehta” after extensive similarities were discovered with two works by Megan McCafferty, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings.” Until Tuesday, however, the publisher had not said whether the book would be canceled or simply revised, as originally planned.

That same day, the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, alerted by reader e-mails, reported on its Web site that “Opal Mehta” contained passages similar to Meg Cabot’s 2000 novel “The Princess Diaries.” The New York Times also reported comparable material in Miss Viswanathan’s novel and Sophie Kinsella’s “Can You Keep a Secret?”

Van Gogh’s big day

A Vincent van Gogh portrait of a French cafe owner sold for $40 million at auction in New York on Tuesday at Christie’s, which handled the sale.

“L’Arlesienne, Madame Ginoux” had been owned by the same family since 1929, when it was bought by Dr. Harry Bakwin, a wealthy American pediatrician. An anonymous buyer purchased the portrait for $40.336 million Associated Press reports.

The 1890 painting depicts Marie Ginoux, the owner of a cafe in Arles, the city in the south of France where van Gogh set up a studio. The artist painted five portraits of Ginoux; one was destroyed, and three are in museums.

In the painting, Ginoux fixes a penetrating gaze on the viewer while resting her elbow on a table. Before her are two books, French translations of Charles Dickens’ Christmas stories and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Also sold Tuesday was Pablo Picasso’s “Le Repos,” the artist’s portrait of his wife, Olga Khokhlova. The Gagosian Gallery bought the 1932 painting for $34.7 million, Christie’s said.

Seeing stars

Actor-director Gary Sinise will perform with his Lt. Dan Band (named for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of a disabled veteran in “Forrest Gump”) tomorrow at noon at the Pentagon’s courtyard as part of the America Supports You program, a nationwide initiative to showcase and communicate Americans’ support of the armed forces.

Mr. Sinise, the star of CBS’ “CSI:New York,” and his band have performed USO concerts for military men and women at American military bases across the United States and throughout Europe. He recently returned from a trip to visit troops in Afghanistan.

Also coming to town: Emmy-nominated actress Kristin Davis. The former “Sex and the City” star, recently seen in Disney’s remake of “The Shaggy Dog,” will be on hand to give special recognition to 10 pet rescue workers (and their four-legged friends) who will be honored Wednesday at the National Press Club for their efforts to save pets displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

It’s over

“Baywatch” actress Donna D’Errico has filed for divorce from her husband of nine years, Motley Crue bass player Nikki Sixx, Associated Press reports.

Miss D’Errico cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for the split, according to court documents filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports.

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