Best Seller Scrutinized for Similarities to 1973 Book
Dec. 13, 1995
ROME (AP) _ Susanna Tamaro has reigned on Italy's best seller list for 89 weeks with a slim, simple tale about an ailing grandmother's search for truth and peace of mind.
The book, which its publisher says has sold 2 million copies in Italy, has created a sensation in a country where best sellers usually don't top several hundred thousand.
Now the novel, ``Va' dove ti porta il cuore'' (Go Where Your Heart Leads You), is making a different kind of splash: A free-lance journalist wrote last week in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera that the book bears many similarities to a 1973 work of the same title by a French Benedictine monk.
Tamaro's novel is written in the form of a long letter from an old woman to her daughter, and explores the themes of generational divides and emotional honesty. She told Il Piccolo, the newspaper in her northeast hometown of Trieste, that she had never read the book by Jean Dechanet.
``If you want to say that I plagiarized, then I plagiarized Simone Weil ... the Bible, the Gospels, a lot of Buddhist texts _ but I call that culture, not plagiarism,'' Il Piccolo on Tuesday quoted her as saying.
Yet Dechanet's book contains several literary images similar to Tamaro's, such as references to the ``lymph fluid,'' or sap, of trees when talking about life and death, Corriere della Sera said. In both books, the narrator talks to trees and can't stand the sound of bells, the newspaper said.
Tamaro called the implication she had copied Dechanet's work ``ridiculous.''
``I read that in the book it talks about _ what do I know _ some sap that runs in trees, things that you can find in any botany text,'' she told Il Piccolo.
Asked if Tamaro would talk to an Associated Press reporter by phone, a spokesman for her publisher, Luca Lando, said she ``doesn't do that kind of thing.''
Another spokesperson for Baldini & Castoldi, Amelia Venegoni, said the company was standing by Tamaro, whose book has been published in 25 countries, including the United States. She said the title came from an essay by a Tibetan monk.
For now, it's difficult for the public to judge, because Dechanet's work has been out of print since 1975. Its Italian publisher, Cittadella, a small editing house in Assisi, is rushing to reprint it. Dechanet is dead, said Cittadella spokeswoman Giuseppina Pompei.
Cittadella's editors are studying the two volumes and haven't decided how to respond, she added.
Tamaro blamed the flap on ``envy, principally. ... I'm not in any power group, I'm not a journalist, I don't teach at a university, I don't serve on literary prize juries ... by my own choice.''
``And then I'm a woman, and besides that I did it all by myself, coming out of nowhere all of a sudden.''
Valeria Serra, the free-lancer who dug up Dechanet's book in her father's library, said she's not making any judgment on the similarities but she's glad the Dechanet book is being reprinted.
``I have nothing against Tamaro,'' Serra said by telephone by Milan.