Fallaci, Oriana (Vol. 11)
Fallaci, Oriana 1930–
Fallaci is an Italian novelist and journalist. Approaching her work as a socialist and a historian, she is deeply concerned with politics, feminism, and the influence of people in power. Her interviews with numerous leaders and political figures are known for their candor and controversial method of questioning. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)
Fallaci enacts each of her assignments [as interviewer] as though it were a boxing match or a love scene. She springs into many different postures in rapid succession to unnerve her opponent, and alternates verbal scratches with relenting pats until her subject releases what she takes to be the essence of himself.
Whether or not these disingenuous tactics are necessary to overcome the self-protectiveness of public figures, they certainly testify to her belief that nothing could be duller than objective fact, and that the pursuit of truth must be peppered with friction. She specializes in the production of a spurious electricity, not so much to switch a clear light on political leaders, as to disclose in them a weakness here, a downright meanness there—those small shocks and sparks that journalism assumes are the surest devices for wakening its somnolent audience.
Fallaci brings the same rousing mixture of tactician and implied crusader to her new book, Letter to a Child Never Born, which became something of a cause celebre when it was first published in Italy; and if there is a danger that histrionics may subtly alter the substance of a political discourse, they certainly seem out of place here, considering the centrality and seriousness of her subject. Advanced as a novel, the plot proceeds as a monologue-debate on procreation and the right of a woman who has conceived a child to decide whether she...
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FRANCINE du PLESSIX GRAY
Fallaci's new book ["Letter to a Child Never Born"], which she calls a novel, takes the form of a passionate dialogue with the unborn child she once carried during a three-month pregnancy. Its theme is easy enough to identify with, being central to the lives of most women: the general ambivalence of joy and fear towards the act of giving birth, the more agonizing ambivalence towards giving birth to an illegitimate child. Yet although the book has moments of intense emotional power it too often lapses into a bathos that is as disconcerting as it is unexpected, coming as it does from this rapier-witted debunker of all bourgeois clichés and historical sentimentalism.
"Letter to a Child Never Born" is a profoundly sad work that balances between two sorrows: the primary sorrow of knowing that an illegitimate child exists within her, the more profound sorrow Fallaci experiences when her pregnancy is terminated….
I wept a bit over this book yet felt rather ashamed of my tears, as if I had found myself crying at 3 P. M. over "Guiding Light." Although many feminists would like to transgress this ultimate taboo, the task of writing about our unborn children presents almost insuperable esthetic problems because of the biological luridness of the theme and the inevitable sentimentalism it evokes in us. Fallaci, alas, falls deeply into this double trap. She presents us with romantic fantasies of the growing fetus which might be...
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Hope Hale Davis
Fallaci focuses [the whole of Letter to a Child Never Born] on the child's physical presence within the heroine; the fetus as imagined from an article becomes the other main character, and is addressed throughout….
Though her tone tends to be arch, Fallaci makes the process of pregnancy marvelously vivid….
The novel neatly encapsulates the battle between an old longing that may be irresistibly instinctual, and the urge of women toward outer fulfillment, worldly success. (p. 15)
Fallaci is famous for her interviews with celebrities…. Her power is such that she could bring to heel the Duchess of Alba, with all her 63 titles, by threatening to choose another Spanish aristocrat as her subject. Fallaci never hesitates to speak freely. Ending long hours with Alfred Hitchcock, for whom, before their meeting, she had felt only a banal admiration, she said, "With all your cordial humor, your nice round face, your nice innocent paunch, you are the most wicked, cruel man I have ever met." After hearing his gleeful boasts about the sickening real-life murders his films had inspired, she overcame her fashionable blindness to what she now could see as "really evil." Give her credit for that.
The price of journalism, though, can be high. When she brought out in America The Useless Sex (1964), a survey of the state of women in countries she had visited, The New Yorker...
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Unlike most modern novels I have read in recent years, [Letter to a Child Never Born] will be difficult to forget. In the form of a novel, and I frequently found it necessary to remind myself that it was a novel and not a private journal I was reading, it is an intensely personal reflection upon the purpose and value of human existence. The medium of expression is a tragic monologue in which an unmarried, liberated career woman confronts the question to give life or to deny it….
To the end the mother retains her independence by refusing to agree with the child's decision to die on the grounds that "it is not enough to believe in love if you don't believe in life." For her the meaning of life is to search for meaning. For all its ambiguity, life is its own justification.
The monologue is an extraordinarily difficult literary form to sustain. It requires the disciplined talent which Ms. Fallaci obviously possesses…. Few readers may share the vision of life related in this novel. However, all should find this encounter with a gifted novelist very worthwhile. (p. 38)
John Begley, in Best Sellers (copyright © 1977 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), May, 1977.
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