John Hughes plagiarised Svetlana Alexievich without realising

9 June 2022

A Guardian Australia investigation has turned up numerous similarities — fifty-eight in fact — between The Dogs, the 2021 novel by Australian author John Hughes, and The Unwomanly Face of War, a 1985 non-fiction title, written by Belarusian journalist and Nobel laureate, Svetlana Alexievich.

After uncovering some similarities between the books, Guardian Australia applied document comparison software to both texts, which revealed 58 similarities and some identical sentences. Guardian Australia also found conceptual similarities between incidents described in the books, including the central scene from which The Dogs takes its title.

Yes, there’s a lot of published fiction in the world. Many authors, just about all I’d think, are influenced to some degree by the work of other writers. From time to time then, some comparisons may be drawn between two quite different titles, and one or two minor overlaps may also be observed. But fifty-eight instances? That’s quite a stretch.

In a statement to Guardian Australia Hughes offered an apology, saying he’d started writing The Dogs — which has also been included on this year’s Miles Franklin longlist — fifteen years ago. Part of this process involved talking to his Ukrainian grandparents, whose accounts of the Second World War where similar to some of the testimonies Alexievich gathered while writing her book.

He had first read The Unwomanly Face of War when it came out in English in 2017, he said, and had used it to teach creative writing students about voice, acknowledging Alexievich as the source. “I typed up the passages I wanted to use and have not returned to the book itself since,” he said. “At some point soon after I must have added them to the transcripts I’d made of interviews with my grandparents and over the years and … [had] come to think of them as my own.”

Update: a joint statement from Hughes and his publisher Upswell in response to the Guardian Australia article.


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