Right of Reply: I am not a plagiarist

The first time I ever saw Tal's book was at my lawyer's, when it was delivered there by court order.

ragen 88 (photo credit: )
ragen 88
(photo credit: )
Many Post readers who have been reading my work for years are obviously upset and confused about the charges of plagiarism cropping up against me like summer weeds. All of the truth lies in the documents I submitted to the court. Meanwhile, let me summarize the case myself: The first time I heard the name Michal Tal was February 14, 2007, when I received an e-mail from her lawyer accusing me of plagiarizing, in my 1998 book The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, a book that Tal had self-published in 1996 with a vanity press in England. Tal demanded that I pay her a sizable sum of money or my reputation would be ruined. "Your fate is in your hands," the letter said ominously. Six days later, on February 20, Tal's lawyer called my cell phone at 10:30 at night to confirm that I had received the letter. I did what anyone would have done. I consulted my own lawyer, who responded in my name on February 21, emphatically denying all Tal's charges. Needless to say, I did not enclose the sizable sum of money demanded. The next day, Tal carried out her threats. Declaring to the court that she couldn't find me, she filed a motion for two ex-parte injunctions, including a lien on all my royalties from The Ghost of Hannah Mendes. I had no opportunity to defend myself, and these injunctions were granted, causing endless, unfounded gossip in the press. It took a full two weeks - until March 7 - until I presented my side of the story. Once the court viewed the facts, both injunctions were immediately canceled by consent of both sides. TAL'S BOOK is the story of the amorous adventures of a 15th-century Milanese tax-collector and his descendants, as recalled in the dreams of a time-traveling Jerusalem psychic. The Ghost of Hannah Mendes is a novel about the remarkable life of a true Jewish heroine, Gracia Mendes (based on Cecil Roth's book Dona Gracia and the House of Nasi), a Portuguese converso, and her fictional descendants in Manhattan. It is a book about the pride of being Jewish despite terrible dangers and the joy of handing down that heritage. I began writing and researching my book in 1989, a full seven years before Tal's book was self-published. Indeed, in 1991, I submitted 13 chapters and an outline of my book to my literary agent, and in 1995, eight months before Tal's book was published, revised sample chapters and an outline of The Ghost of Hannah Mendes were on the desk of a major New York publishing house, from which I later received an offer of publication. Tal claims that I only wrote books about haredim until a mutual friend gave me a copy of her book in 1996, as a result of which I suddenly developed an interest in the Inquisition. This is ludicrous. In Jepthe's Daughter, published in 1989, one of the characters is the descendant of conversos, and the name Gracia Mendes appears. Also, as the Post discovered when it interviewed the "mutual friend," she never gave me a copy of Tal's book. The first time I ever saw Tal's book was on February 25, 2007, at the office of my lawyer, when it was delivered there by court order. Tal's claim of plagiarism was presented to the court in the form of a 44-page opus, citing dozens of so-called copyright infringements. Careful examination of this material, however, proves that every single one of these claims, without exception, is completely fabricated and wholly invalid. For example, as published in the Post, she cites the remarkable similarity between seven names which appear in both books. As I wrote to the court in my response to this charge, there are over 80 character names in her short book, and out of the seven she alleges are similar, three are historical characters, one is an object and not a person, and two are in no way similar. Only one is exactly the same, Elvira, a name that appears already in a 1991 draft version that I submitted to my agent five years before Tal's book was even published. Other claims are even stranger. For example, Tal says that I got the idea for a family tree from her book. Using Tal's methodology, one could prove that the phone book plagiarizes the Bible: this one writes about Moshe, and that one writes about Moshe. This one talks about Jerusalem, the Holy City, and that one talks about Jerusalem the Municipality. It's laughable. On a personal note, someone once said that: "if you succeed, you will win some false friends and some real enemies." It has been a real revelation to me in the past few weeks to see how true that is.