Fallaci, Oriana 1930-
FALLACI, Oriana 1930-
PERSONAL: Born June 29, 1930, in Florence, Italy; daughter of Edoardo (a cabinet maker and politician) and Tosca (Cantini) Fallaci; companion of Alexandros Panagoulis (a political activist; died, May 1, 1976). Education: Attended University of Florence and medical school. Politics: Liberal.
CAREER: Writer. Reporter, Il Mattino dell'Italia centrale (newspaper), beginning 1946; reporter, Epoca (magazine), 1951; special correspondent, Europeo (magazine), 1958-77. Also war correspondent beginning in 1967. Has interviewed internationally known figures, including Nguyen Cao Ky, Yasir Arafat, the Shah of Iran, Henry Kissinger, Walter Cronkite, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Nguyen Van Thieu, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, the Aytollah Khomeini, and Mu'ammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi. Collaborator with major publishers throughout the world, including Washington Post, 1977-96; Life magazine, 1977-96; and Look magazine, 1977-96. Lecturer at universities, including University of Chicago, Columbia University, Harvard University, and Yale University. Director, Rizzoli Publishing Corporation.
AWARDS, HONORS: St. Vincent Prize for journalism, 1971, 1973; Bancarella Prize, 1971 for Nothing, and So Be It; Viareggio Prize, 1979, for Un Uomo: Romanzo; Hemingway prize, Super Bancarella prize, both 1991, both for Inshallah; Prix Antibes, 1993, for Insciallah; honorary D.Litt., Columbia College (Chicago, IL).
I Sette peccati di Hollywood (title means "The Seven Sins of Hollywood"), preface by Orson Welles, Longanesi (Milan, Italy), 1958.
Il Sesso inutile: Viaggio intorno all donna, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1961, translation by Pamela Swinglehurst published as The Useless Sex: Voyage around the Woman, Horizon Press (New York, NY), 1964.
Penelope alla guerra (novel), Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1962, translation by Pamela Swinglehurst published as Penelope at War, M. Joseph (London, England), 1966.
Gli antipatici, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1963, translation by Pamela Swinglehurst published as Limelighters, M. Joseph (London, England), 1967, published as The Egotists: Sixteen Surprising Interviews, Regnery (Chicago, IL), 1968.
Se il sole muore, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1965, translation by Pamela Swinglehurst published as If the Sun Dies, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1966.
Niente a cosi sia, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1969, translation by Isabel Quigly published as Nothing, and So Be It, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972, also published as Nothing and Amen, M. Joseph (London, England, 1972.
Quel giorno sulla Luna, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1970.
Intervista con la Storia, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1974, translation by John Shepley published as Interview with History, Liveright (New York, NY), 1976.
Lettera a un bambino mai nato, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1975, translation by John Shepley published as Letter to a Child Never Born, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1976.
Un Uomo: Romanzo (novel), Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1979, translation by William Weaver published as A Man, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
Insciallah, translation by Oriana Fallaci (from a translation by James Marcus) published as Inshallah, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.
La Rabbia e l'orgoglio, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 2001, translation by Oriana Fallaci published as The Rage and the Pride, Rizzoli International (New York, NY), 2002.
La Forza della ragione (title means "Strength of Reason"), Rizzoli International (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including New Republic, New York Times Magazine, Life, La Nouvelle Observateur, Washington Post, Look, Der Stern, and Corriere della Sera.
SIDELIGHTS: Though she has written novels and memoirs, Italian author Oriana Fallaci remains best known as an uncompromising political interviewer, or, as Elizabeth Mehren put it in the Los Angeles Times,"the journalist to whom virtually no world figure would say no." Her subjects include Henry Kissinger, Willy Brandt, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the late Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, from whom she extracted such criticism of India's Indira Gandhi that a 1972 peace treaty between the two countries almost went unsigned. Already as famous as many of the figures she interviews, Fallaci is a freethinker passionately committed to her craft. "I do not feel myself to be, nor will I ever succeed in feeling like, a cold recorder of what I see and hear," she wrote in the preface to Interview with History. "On every professional experience I leave shreds of my heart and soul; and I participate in what I see or hear as though the matter concerned me personally and were one on which I ought to take a stand (in fact I always take one, based on a specific moral choice)."
While Fallaci's morality has seldom been questioned, her interviewing techniques are highly controversial. According to New York Times Book Review contributor Francine du Plessix Gray, Fallaci combines "the psychological insight of a great novelist and the irreverence of a bratty quiz kid." Known for her abrasive interviewing tactics, Fallaci often goads her subjects into revelations. "Let's talk about war," she challenged Henry Kissinger in their 1972 interview. "You're not a pacifist, are you?" When a subject refuses to cooperate, he becomes "a bastard, a fascist, an idiot," noted Esquire contributor David Sanford.
Fallaci denies her reputation as a brutal interrogator, insisting instead that she merely frames the questions other reporters lack the courage to ask. Where others seek objectivity, Fallaci prefers an approach that she calls "correct" and "honest." Each interview, "is a portrait of myself," she told Time contributor Jordan Bonfante. "They are a strange mixture of my ideas, my temperament, my patience, all of these driving the questions."
Although Ted Morgan complained in the Washington Post that Fallaci "wants to be more than a brilliant interviewer, she wants to be an avenging angel," Fallaci defends her unique approach on the grounds that she is not simply a journalist but a historian as well. She told Bonfante, "A journalist lives history in the best of ways, that is in the moment that history takes place. He lives history, he touches history with his hands, looks at it with his eyes, he listens to it with his ears." To Jonathan Cott in a Rolling Stone interview, she explained, "I am the judge. I am the one who decides. Listen: if I am a painter and I do your portrait, have I or haven't I the right to paint you as I want?"
Fallaci's commitment to self-expression began at an early age. She once told CA that she remembers writing "short naive stories" at age nine. "Yet," she continued, "I really started writing at sixteen when I became a reporter in Florence. I got into journalism to become a writer." When asked what circumstances had been important to her career, Fallaci said, "first of all, the fact of belonging to a liberal and politically engaged family. Also, the fact of having lived—though as a child—the heroic days of the Resistance in Italy through a father who was a leader of it. Then, the fact of being a Florentine. That is, the result of a certain civilization and culture. However, I sometimes wonder if the most motivating factor has not been the fact of being born a woman and poor. When you are a woman, you have to fight more. Consequently, to see more and to think more and to be more creative. The same, when you were born poor. Survival is a great pusher."
Fallaci once told CA that the purpose behind her writing is "to tell a story with meaning. Certainly not money. I never wrote for money. I could never write for money—which means by order or for an engagement with a publisher." Instead, the motivating factor of each of her books is "a great emotion, both a psychological or political and [an] intellectual emotion. Think of Nothing, and So Be It, the book on Vietnam. For me, it is not even a book on Vietnam, it is a book on the war. (I am obsessed by the uselessness and the stupidity and the cruelty and the folly of the war.) Letter to a Child Never Born (which was not written for the issue of abortion as it has been said so often and so gratuitously) was born out of the loss of a child. A Man was written out of the death of my companion Alekos Panagoulis and the grief for such loss. However, one should notice that the leitmotif of all my books is the theme of death. These three books always speak of death or refer to death, my hate for death, my fight against death. . . . Freedom is only one of the many other elements. What really pushes me to write is my obsession with death."
In Letter to a Child Never Born Fallaci chronicles the fictional dialogue between the narrator and the baby the woman carries inside herself. "The plot proceeds," according to Isa Kapp in the Washington Post BookWorld, "as a monologue-debate on procreation and the right of a woman who has conceived a child to decide whether she should allow it to live." Based on Fallaci's own three-month pregnancy, the novel "has moments of intense emotional power," allowed Francine du Plessix Gray in the New York Times Book Review. But du Plessix Gray went on to say that "it too often lapses into a bathos that is as disconcerting as it is unexpected." Yet du Plessix Gray concluded that Letter to a Child Never Born "is a poignant testament" and found that "in her best moments, Fallaci, as always, strips truth down to its naked bone." In her essay on Fallaci for Feminist Writers, Maria Elena Raymond explained that Letter to a Child Never Born is "considered to be one of the finest feminist writings about pregnancy, abortion, and emotional torture."
In A Man, Fallaci attempts to immortalize the martyred poet and Greek resistance leader Alekos Panagoulis, the great love of her life. Though she called the book a novel, A Man recounts the real story of Panagoulis's fight for Greece's freedom—a fight he continued until his death. In 1967, Panagoulis attempted to assassinate the fascist Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos by planting a series of bombs along the roads he traveled each day. The plan failed, and Panagoulis was captured and imprisoned almost immediately. During the next five years, the revolutionary was subjected to physical abuse as well as psychological torture in an effort to break his spirit and will. Despite the inhuman treatment, Panagoulis refused to succumb, and his repeated escape attempts and uncompromising rebelliousness finally led him to be isolated in a specially constructed cell, not much larger than a double bed, with no windows and only three paces' worth of standing room. He remained there until he was freed under a general amnesty in 1973. Two days after his release, Panagoulis was interviewed by Fallaci, and, firmly convinced that their meeting was an act of fate, the two became lovers within a few weeks.
For the next three years, Fallaci and Panagoulis shared a tempestuous relationship. According to Marcia Seligson in the Los Angeles Times, "He told her, 'I don't want a woman to be happy with. The world is full of women you can be happy with. . . . And I want a companion. A companion who will be my comrade, friend, accomplice, brother. I'm a man in battle. I always will be.' She became all those things, surrendering her own full and independent life to follow this difficult, maddening, towering man. She lived an emotional pendulum of anguish/bliss; there was no serenity, no future, only thrills and chills." Panagoulis was killed by political enemies in an ambush made to look like an auto accident in 1976. Within months of his death, Fallaci began work on the book she would dedicate to him, and, in 1979, published what she considers her most important work, A Man.
Critical reaction to the book varied from praise to disdain. Supporters, such as Seligson, hailed A Man as "a work of passion, courage, candor and exquisite skill." Saturday Review contributor Julie Stone Peters described it as "a majestic and soul-stirring narration," maintaining that Fallaci "has learned from her interviews how to control the novel." Peter Brunette believed that her ideas transcend "the 'merely' political: Fallaci places her subject in the most deeply Greek context of all, that of ancient tragedy, as she marvelously adduces one resonant mythic parallel after another on the way to her lover's final submission to his tragic fate," he wrote in the New Republic.
Others eschewed her approach. "Throughout this catalogue of misery, Fallaci never makes the right choice," noted a Time reviewer. "When the account needs historical analysis, she offers tantrums; when suffering cries out for a tragic spirit, she substitutes bathos." Vivian Gomick compared it to "an old fashioned dish of hearty melodrama being offered as though it were the cuisine of tragedy."
In the novel Inshallah, Fallaci writes a fictional account of Italian troops stationed in Lebanon in 1983. After both the American and French peacekeeping forces are the targets of suicidal truck bombers, the Italian forces ready themselves for what they fear is the inevitable third truck bomb. "Rarely," wrote Christopher Dickey in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "has there been a setting so ready-made for classic tragedy." Unfortunately, Dickey believed that Fallaci "has always had trouble hearing any voice but her own" and that Inshallah "might have been a monument to her talents and her passion. Instead it remains as a tribute mainly to her ego." But Thomas Keneally found much of value in Inshallah. "Fallaci," Keneally noted in the New York Times Book Review, "writes with a muscular eloquence when giving us the squalor, yearning and shadowboxing of the soldiers' existence." Although he saw Fallaci's asides to be the weakest part of her narrative, Keneally concluded that Fallaci "is profligate with plot and detail, and her openhandedness and the inherent tensions of her large story should insure that most readers will overlook her equally spacious faults."
After publishing Inshallah, Fallaci lived anonymously in New York City and Florence for two decades as she battled cancer. She broke her silence after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Knowing that Fallaci was deeply impressed with New York's skyscrapers and the freedom and security enjoyed by its citizens, Ferraccio de Bortoli, director of Milan's Corriere della Sera newspaper, asked Fallaci to describe how she felt about the attacks—and she responded vehemently. "Over the course of two weeks, she covered hundreds of typescript pages with a philippic against Islamist terrorism and the cowardly Western elites who had permitted it to blossom in their midst," explained Christopher Caldwell in Commentary. An abridgement of the article was published in Corriere on September 29. Remarked Caldwell, "It turned into one of the great sensations in the history of European journalism. Newsstands sold out of a million copies in four hours."
In December, 2002, the Italian publisher Rizzoli printed the article in its entirety in book form under the same name, and the English version of the book was published a year later. Fallaci's fury is even more apparent without the newspaper's edits. Noted Caldwell, "She compared Islamic terrorists to Nazis and fascists, calling them 'the new SS, the new blackshirts,' engaged in a 'reverse crusade' against the West." She laments that Islamic terrorism was not a misinterpretation of a great faith, as most people believe, and that even Muslims living among Americans and Europeans secretly hope to conquer the West. Fallaci held back little in her insults of Islam. As Caldwell recorded, "Fallaci warned that Islamist terrorism was not, as we are so often told, the perversion of a great faith, and not the work of a disillusioned and obscurantist fringe. It was part and parcel of Islam itself, which she referred to as 'this mountain that for fourteen-hundred years has not moved, has not emerged from the abyss of its blindness, has not opened its doors to the conquest of civilization, and has wanted nothing to do with liberty and justice and democracy and progress.'"
The Italian version of The Rage and the Pride sold a million copies, ignited a worldwide controversy, and elicited vastly divergent responses from critics, who seemed to either praise the book or regard it as opportunistic nonsense. "Understandably, reactions to the piece were strong. Italian daily newspapers published responses from cultural and political thinkers, for and against Fallaci's thinking. In the Roman daily La Repubblica, leading Italian intellectual Umberto Eco wrote at length on the need for dialogue and tolerance among cultures," noted Marco Belpoliti in Foreign Policy. Belpoliti considered the book's narrative themes a major strength. "As Fallaci mixes together personal and general experience, the reader is drawn to her life story, from youthful journalist to war reporter, novelist, and voluntary exile in New York," he observed. Writing in London's Guardian, Rana Kabbani was offended by the book: "One can dismiss Fallaci's rantings as those of an enraged has-been who, even in her heyday, communicated her ego in writing. . . . Fallaci's hatred and fear of Muslims is both visceral and hysterical—no doubt exacerbated by the fact that she lives in New York and seems to have swallowed wholesale the U.S. government's denomination of Arabs and Muslims as synonymous with 'terrorists.'"
Critical opinions matter little to Fallaci, who does not keep reviews of her books. As she once told CA, "I do not respect reviewers. They are almost always failed writers, consequently envious and jealous of those who write. I find their profession kind of despicable, because it is so unfair and stupid to snap judgments in a little article after the work of years. I think that the real reviewers are the readers. I care very much for the letters of my readers. I receive them from all over the world, and they always say much more intelligent things than those written by the 'reviewers.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Almanac of Famous People, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 11, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1979.
Fallaci, Oriana, Interview with History, Liveright (New York, NY), 1976.
Fallaci, Oriana, A Man, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
Fallaci, Oriana, The Rage and the Pride, Rizzoli International (New York, NY), 2002.
Feminist Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Gatt-Rutter, John, Oriana Fallaci: The Rhetoric of Freedom, Berg (Washington, DC), 1996.
Pattavina, Giovanni, Alekos Panagulis, il rivoluzionario don Chisciotte di Oriana Fallaci: Saggio politico-letterario, Edizioni italiane di letteratura e scienze (Rome, Italy), 1984.
Best Sellers, May, 1977.
Chicago Tribune Book World, November 30, 1980.
Commentary, October, 2002, Christopher Caldwell, "The Fallaci Affair," pp. 34-44.
Economist (U.S.), November 16, 2002, "Fallacious Fallaci: Italy's Globalisation Debate."
Esquire, November, 1968; June, 1975.
Europe, May, 2002, Niccolo d'Aquino, "The Return of Oriana Fallaci," p. 40.
Foreign Policy, May, 2002, Marco Belpoliti, "The Fallacies of St. Fallaci," pp. 84-87.
Guardian (London, England), June 11, 2002, Rana Kabbani, "Comment & Analysis: Bible of the Muslim Haters: The Popularity of a Virulent New Book Shows How Deeply Islamophobia Has Taken Root in Western Europe," p. 14.
Harper's, November, 1980.
Life, February 21, 1969.
London Review of Books, February 11, 1993, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times, November, 1980; December 2, 1980.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 10, 1993, p. 1.
Maclean's, February 8, 1993, p. 55.
M2 Best Books, July 3, 2002, "French Judge Rejects Rage and Pride Ban."
New Leader, March 14, 1977.
New Republic, November 22, 1980.
New York, May 22, 1978.
New Yorker, February 21, 1977.
New York Times, January 25, 1973; November 3, 1980; October 31, 2001, Melinda Henneberger, "Provacateur Is Back to 'Spit' on Detractors of U.S.," p. A4.
New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1967; February 13, 1977; November 23, 1980; December 27, 1992, p. 8.
O, The Oprah Magazine, December, 2001, Maria Shriver, "Interview with History," p. 132.
People, March 14, 1977.
Publishers Weekly, November 7, 1980; October 5, 1992, p. 54; November 11, 2002, review of The Rage and the Pride, pp. 54-56.
Rolling Stone, June 17, 1976.
Saturday Review, March 18, 1972; November, 1980; January 8, 1981.
Sunday Times (London, England), December 15, 2002, Sarah Baxter, "Italian Firebrand Takes Her Fight to the 'Islamo-Fascists,'" p. 29.
Time, October 20; January 19, 1981.
Times Literary Supplement, August 11, 1972; May 22, 1981; September 28, 1990, p. 1039; December 18, 1992, p. 18.
Washington Post, February 23, 1972; March 13, 1972; May 18, 1976.
Washington Post Book World, February 13, 1977, pp. G7, G10; November 30, 1980; December 13, 1992, p. 5.
World Literature Today, summer, 1991, p. 468.
WWD, September 13, 1999, Susan Smith, "Oriana Fallaci: Views on Power from a 1976 Chat with the Feisty Italian Journalist," p. 113.
Italian Language Web site,http://italian.about.com/ (February 15, 2003), "Rage and Pride Ignites a Firestorm."*