Novelist Named By Miles Franklin Apologizes For Plagiarizing Nobel Laureate ‘Without Realizing It’ | Books

Australian author John Hughes has apologized for unintentionally plagiarizing parts of a Nobel laureate’s work after a Guardian Australia investigation found multiple similarities and identical instances in his new novel, The Dogs, which has been nominated for Australia’s most prestigious literary award.

Nearly 60 similarities and identical phrases were found in a comparison of Hughes’ novel and the 2017 English translation of Svetlana Alexievich’s non-fiction book The Unwomanly Face of War.

After finding some similarities between the books, Guardian Australia applied document comparison software to the two texts, which revealed 58 similarities and some identical phrases.

Guardian Australia also found conceptual similarities between the incidents depicted in the books, including the central scene from which The Dogs takes its title.

The Dogs is presented as the original work of Hughes, without reference to any other source or research.

Hughes – an Australian descendant of Ukrainian refugees – won critical acclaim for his novel about the intergenerational impact of wartime trauma.

As well as being shortlisted in May for the Miles Franklin Prize, the book was shortlisted for the 2022 Victorian Premier’s and 2022 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for Fiction.

Hughes’ protagonist, Michael, is the son of Russian and Italian immigrants who came to Australia after World War II. As death nears, her mother, Anna, reveals her experiences fighting against the Nazi army as a partisan. Anna’s memories are mostly presented by Hughes in the form of transcripts Michael makes of his discussions with her or in the third person.

Born in Ukraine, Alexievich is a Belarusian journalist and former leader of the opposition movement to President Alexander Lukashenko. she received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 for her “historic polyphonic writings, a monument to the suffering and courage of our time”.

Her 1985 work The Unwomanly Face of War is one of five books in her Voices of Utopia cycle, describing life in the Soviet Union through oral testimony. Collecting interviews she conducted with more than 200 women who fought for the Soviet Union in World War II, the nonfiction work took her more than four years to research and write.

When Guardian Australia sent a number of excerpts from The Dogs to Alexievich and asked her about the apparent use of her material, she sent a brief statement through a translator: “I didn’t never heard of The Dogs nor been contacted by Hughes. The verbatim excerpts from my book are outrageous, and of course I disagreed with that.

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When presented with the same examples, Alexievich’s award-winning translators, the husband-wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, called the similarities “quite extraordinary.”

“Such things don’t happen by coincidence: not with such specific words, sequences, voices,” they said. “This should certainly be brought to the attention of the judges of the [Miles Franklin literary award] and the public. »

“I would like to apologize”

In a statement to the Guardian, Hughes said he started writing The Dogs 15 years ago, a process that involved “many recordings and transcriptions” with his Ukrainian grandparents, who recounted many similar instances to those contained in Alexievich’s book.

He had first read The Unwomanly Face of War when it came out in English in 2017, he said, and used it to teach voice acting to creative writing students, acknowledging Alexievich as the source.

“I typed up the passages I wanted to use and haven’t gone back to the book itself since,” he said. “At some point, shortly after, I had to add them to the transcripts I had made of interviews with my grandparents and over the years and… [had] come to regard them as mine.

He said his grandparents’ stories had become confused with Alexievich’s oral histories in his mind. “I couldn’t unstitch them anymore, even if I wanted to.”

Hughes continued, “I’m not trying to justify myself here. Rather, I’m trying to account for how I could have used parts of another writer’s work so directly without realizing it…I had no intention at any time of writing to do pass off Alexievitch’s work for my own and I was genuinely surprised when I saw the material included in the article (there’s nothing more disturbing than finding out that your creative process isn’t what you assumed).

“I would like to apologize to Ms. Alexievich and her translators for using their words without recognition.”

Hughes’ editor, Terri-ann White, at Upswell Publishing, said she “stands firmly with the author, despite the credits now evident in this text”.

As a writer, she says, she understood “how creativity can intertwine with the making of a long work”. After reading Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War when it was translated into English, she said, “I only regret that I didn’t recognize those borrowed descriptions.

She said she would “make amends and acknowledge those primary sources in the book I published.”


Many instances in The Dogs that are worded similarly to Alexievich’s transcriptions in The Unwomanly Face of War are presented as Anna’s war memories.

In the scene from which The Dogs takes its title, Anna tells Michael for the first time that she murdered his baby sister to stop the child’s screams from revealing the location of his partisan unit to German soldiers and their dogs. .

Judges for the 2022 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards called the revelation key to the novel’s exploration of “how an untold secret can shape the present”.

The foreword to Alexievich’s book contains a transcribed account of an almost identical incident, told to Alexievich by an unnamed woman who witnessed it.

In the excerpts below, the ellipsis in quotation marks is reproduced from both books; they do not indicate omitted material.

From Alexievitch’s transcription:

Someone betrayed us… The Germans found out where the camp of our partisan unit was.

[W]We were saved by the swamps where the punitive forces did not go.

For days, weeks, we stood up to our necks in water.

From The Dogs:

Someone betrayed us… The Germans found the camp. We were saved by the swamps. For days we stood up to our necks. Mud and water.

From Alexievitch’s transcription:

The baby was hungry… He had to be breastfed… But the mother herself was hungry and had no milk.

From The Dogs:

The baby was hungry.

But she too was hungry and had little milk.

From Alexievitch’s transcription:

The baby cried. The punitive forces were close… With dogs… If the dogs heard it, we would all be killed. The whole group – thirty of us… You understand?

[W]We can’t look up. Neither to the mother nor to each other…

From The Dogs:

[T]The Germans were close… we could hear the dogs. If the dogs heard him…?

There were thirty of us… No one could look at me… No one… You understand…

In his statement to The Guardian Australia, Hughes said: “Alexievich’s first-hand accounts of Russian women in World War II are so much like the fragments of my grandmother as she told them to me, the two intertwine. are confused in my mind.

“Even the baby in the swamp scene (which matches other horrific tales of people in hiding) I remember as a story she told me, although I see now that it’s Alexievitch’s version that I included.”

In another section of Hughes’ book, Anna describes to Michael how she fell in love during the war. As written by Hughes, it is almost identical to an account told to Alexievich by Nina Yakovlevna Vishnevskaya, sergeant major and medical assistant of a Soviet tank battalion.

From Nina Yakovlevna Vishnevskaya’s account to Alexievich:

I remember once we fell into an encirclement… We dug the ground with our own hands, we had nothing else. No shovels… Nothing… We were in a hurry from all sides. We had already decided: that night, we would either break through or die. We most likely thought we would die… I don’t know if I should talk about it or not. I do not know …

We camouflaged ourselves. We sat there. We waited until nightfall to try to break through somehow. And Lieutenant Misha T. – he was replacing our wounded battalion commander, he was in his twenties – began to remember how much he loved to dance, to play the guitar.

Of Dogs:

I remember once we fell into an encirclement… We dug the ground with our own hands, we had nothing else. No shovels… Nothing… We were in a hurry from all sides. We had already decided that night that we were going to break through or die… I don’t know if I should talk about it…

We camouflaged ourselves, the soldiers, me and the two other nurses who had been caught there. We waited until nightfall to try to break through somehow. And the young lieutenant who replaced the wounded commander, he was about twenty years old, he began to remember how much he loved to dance and play the guitar.

Hughes introduces another of Anna’s memories of her partisan unit finding a nurse who had been captured by the German army. It is also nearly identical to the account of an unnamed Soviet woman in Alexievich’s book.

From Alexievitch:

One of our nurses was captured… A day later we took over this village. There were dead horses lying around, motorcycles, armored vehicles. We found her: her eyes gouged out, her breasts cut off. They had impaled her on a stake… It was freezing cold, and she was as white as can be, and her hair was all gray… She was nineteen years old.

In his backpack we found letters from home and a green rubber bird. A child’s toy…

From The Dogs:

When the village was recaptured the next day, there were dead horses lying around, motorcycles, armored vehicles. They found the nurse: eyes gouged out, breasts cut off, impaled on a pole. It was freezing cold, and she was as white as possible, and her hair was silver. She was nineteen. In his backpack, they found letters from home and a green rubber bird. A child’s toy.

Alexievich now lives in Germany, having left Belarus in 2020 as one of the few Belarusian opposition movement leaders not imprisoned by Lukashenko’s regime.

The 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Prize guidelines state that “all entries must consist entirely of the author’s original work.”

The Miles Franklin Prize body has been approached for comment following the publication of this story.

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