Fallaci, Oriana (Vol. 110)
Oriana Fallaci 1930–
Italian journalist and novelist.
The following entry provides an overview of Fallaci's career through 1998. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volume 11.
Best known as a hard-nosed interviewer to whom, as Elizabeth Mehren of the Los Angeles Times said, "virtually no world figure would say no," Oriana Fallaci is a writer who combines the methods of fiction with the reporting of facts. She is a valuable contributor to a genre of writing known as new journalism, or creative non-fiction, which includes writers such as Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and Gay Talese. Fallaci's personality plays a strong role in her writing. As she states in her book Intervista con la storia (1974; 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." Fallaci eschews objectivity to get at the truth, a controversial approach that has gained her notoriety, but which illustrates her belief that she is not simply a journalist, but also a chronicler of her time.
Oriana Fallaci was born on June 29, 1930 in Florence, Italy, the daughter of Edoardo and Tosca Fallaci. Edoardo, a cabinet maker and politician, was a leader of the Resistance in Italy during World War II. Fallaci began writing what she called "short naive stories" at age nine and was involved in the Resistance as a teenager. To pursue her writing ambitions, at sixteen she became a reporter in Florence for Il Mattino. She later became special correspondent for the journals Epoca and L'Europeo, and eventually contributed articles to Corriere della sera, Le Nouvelle Observateur, The New York Times, Life, New Republic, Washington Post, and Der Stern. Initially she interviewed show-business personalities like Dean Martin and Michael Caine, but she soon found her true calling: interviewing political figures such as Henry Kissinger, Yasir Arafat, Golda Meir, Nguyen Cao Ky, The Shah of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Mu'ammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi. "I do these interviews to understand the person, to study how power takes place," said Fallaci. She has won several awards for journalism in Italy and North America and has been a university lecturer at Yale, Harvard, Chicago and Columbia. She is a two-time winner of the St. Vincent prize for Journalism and was awarded the Bancarella prize in 1971 for Niente e cosi sia (1969; Nothing, and So Be It), her account of the Vietnam war. She received an Honorary Doctorate in Letters from Columbia College (Chicago) and earned the Viaggio Prize for Un uomo (1979; A Man), a novelistic account of Fallaci's experiences with Alexandros Panagoulis, a Greek political activist who was killed on May 1, 1976. Fallaci met Panagoulis for an interview two days after he was released from a five-year prison term served for an assassination attempt on Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos. Fallaci and Panagoulis became lovers and were together until his death. Fallaci claims to never have written for money. Her motivation, she relates, has been "a great emotion, both a psychological or political and … intellectual emotion." The influence of Fallaci's interviews is legendary; for example, a 1972 peace treaty between India and Pakistan was jeopardized because of comments elicited from Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during an interview with Fallaci. Her approach is unconventional, but effective. As she told journalist Mike Wallace on CBS's 60 Minutes: "I hate objectivity…. I do not believe in objectivity, I believe in what I see, what I hear, and what I feel."
Fallaci's work has been translated from the original Italian into many languages, including English, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Dutch, Croatian, and Greek. She is drawn to issues of power, although she has developed other themes. An early book, Il sesso inutile (1961; The Useless Sex), covered the status of women around the world at that time. Fallaci has observed that "when you are a woman, you have to fight more. Consequently, to see more and to think more and to be more creative." Gender is also an important issue in A Man which Fallaci considers her most important work. In it she explores the male heroic ideal exemplified by Greek freedom fighter Alexandros Panagoulis. War is a central focus in several of her works, most notably in Nothing, and So Be It, a reportage on the Vietnam war that placed Fallaci among the critics of American involvement. She returned to the subject of war in Inshallah (1990), where she covers the Lebanon conflict from the Italian camp. In Se il sole muore (1965; If the Sun Dies), Fallaci reported on the American space program and in Lettera a un bambino mai nato (1975; Letter to a Child never Born), written after the miscarriage of her child, she deals with abortion, motherhood, and death. Commonly regarded as Fallaci's most significant work is Interview with History, a collection of interviews with commentary by the author. In the book, prominent political figures of her time are confronted in the provocative manner that is Fallaci's trademark. She confronts her subjects with probing skepticism and a consuming desire to have her questions answered. "I went with a thousand feelings of rage, a thousand questions that before assailing them were assailing me," Fallaci explained. She observed that "those who determine our destiny are not really better than ourselves; they are neither more intelligent nor stronger nor more enlightened than ourselves."
Fallaci's writing and interviewing methods have met with mixed appraisal. By some she is seen as a fresh voice in a new genre, while others see in her work a violation of fundamental tenets of journalism. The latter opinion is voiced, for example, by Vivian Gornik in The New York Times Book Review who, in discussing A Man, complains of a "passionate enslavement" to a "poetic ideal," and finds that when the techniques of fiction are applied to reportage the writing is particularly troublesome, due to a lack of self-control. Jeffrey Burke also noted a tendency for poetic excess and for polemic. However, many critics applaud Fallaci's approach. John C. Kendrew, reviewing If the Sun Dies, saw it as "one of very few pioneer works in a new genre: the criticism of science and technology as ways of life, as sets of values" and praised her method, which although imperfect, he saw as "breathing with life." Many reviewers have found in Fallaci's direct confrontation of her subjects an engaging application of the journalistic method. They maintain that Fallaci gets extraordinary results due not only to the degree of preparation she brings, but also to the knowledge and intelligence she applies to her trade. David Sanford uses the term "surgical journalism" to explain how Fallaci dissects an interview subject until she gets to the truth. Furthermore, Santo L. Arico remarks that Fallaci's methods are akin to those of cinéma vérité and direct cinema in that her comprehensive study of and involvement with her subjects stimulates disclosures that a more objective, detached approach would not. Another similarity to these kinds of documentary film techniques is Fallaci's habit of commenting on the unfolding story, the whole resulting in a kind of "psychodrama," not simply an interview. Arico concludes that "Fallaci's virtue as a writer lies precisely in showing the possibility of something strikingly different in journalism and in furthering efforts to replace earlier types of fiction with a new brand of literature."
Il sesso inutile [The Useless Sex] (journalism) 1961
Penelope alla guerra [Penelope at War] (novel) 1962
Se il sole muore [If the Sun Dies] (journalism) 1965
Niente e cosi sia [Nothing, and So Be It] (journalism) 1969
Intervista con la storia [Interview with History] (journalism) 1974
Lettera a un bambino mai nato [Letter to a Child never Born] (novel) 1975
Un uomo [A Man] (novel) 1979
Inshallah (novel) 1990
(The entire section is 61 words.)
SOURCE: "Report—Italian Style," in The Economist, Vol. 213, November 4, 1964, p. 715.
[In the following review, the critic considers Fallaci's descriptions of women's liberation around the world in The Useless Sex.]
The motive behind this book [The Useless Sex] is "a reportage on the status of women." The author departs via Ankara for points east to inquire into the conditions of the female species, accompanied by a Roman photographer who grows more and more disillusioned about his chances of amorous escapades as the trip proceeds.
The result is totally subjective, not very profound, but interesting and often amusing. The theme is a natural for an illustrated weekly like L'Europeo, parcelled into installments with illustrations: it does not adapt so well to book form. One keeps reading about Duilio taking photographs and feels frustrated at not seeing any. To compensate, Signorina Fallaci has a true Italian eye for colour, costume and decor, combined with professional skill in reporting the various interviews en route, and she greets new people and places with a receptive mind.
There are excellent descriptions of the oppressive isolation of Moslem women, shrouded in purdah, who cannot conceive the meaning of love matches, and are still married, in tears, at fourteen. In India the author is shocked at the drastic use of sterilization as one solution to...
(The entire section is 493 words.)
SOURCE: "Diary of an Infatuation with the Future," in Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 1966, p. 14.
[In the following review, Henniker-Heaton relates the style and substance of Fallaci's If the Sun Dies, which she describes as a "diary of a year in my life."]
"This book," writes Oriana Fallaci in her first chapter [of If the Sun Dies], "is the diary of a year in my life." After serving with the Italian underground against the Nazis, she received at age 14 her honorable discharge and $23.50. A diary of any year in her life could be interesting.
But Miss Fallaci, as she carefully makes plain, doesn't go for religion or prayers or an afterlife; else she might have been cautious and recalled that old saying about man proposing and God disposing. Her book begins as a personal diary; but in no time its theme takes over.
Its theme is the future. Sometimes this future looks like the moon, sometimes like Mars, or a rocket at lift-off, or that state of mind called America. Always, underneath, it is the five billion years left before the sun dies. Five billion years of furious living. Five billion years of grace in which humanity has to find itself new homes in new planetary systems with younger or longer lived suns.
A Chinese courtship
Swiftly the diary becomes the chronicle of a passionate wooing. Many...
(The entire section is 679 words.)
SOURCE: "Out of Orbit," in New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1967, p. 49.
[In the following review, Ley comments on Fallaci's reactions to the American space program in If the Sun Dies.]
Oriana Fallaci is an Italian journalist who came to the United States a few years ago to have a personal look at the space program and related activities. She came to this task armed with nothing more than the knowledge of a few American science-fiction stories, and she found the impact of advanced science and technology quite disturbing. She interviewed engineers, medical doctors, public relations men and astronauts. Throughout, she had a pronounced tendency to veer off the theme and to ask irrelevant questions.
In fact, she reminds me of a long-dead aunt of mine—whom I am dragging in at this point because one such question is the only thing I really remember about her. I was roughly 8 years old then, and I had saved the lead foil from wine bottles and cast them into a mold that looked like a ship's hull. When said aunt came for a Kaffeeklatsch I proudly showed her my lead boat and told her how I had made it. "But," she said, "what will you do when it explodes?"
Miss Fallaci (though indubitably far more intelligent than my aunt) has a penchant for making queries of this kind at precisely the wrong moment. While being driven to Merritt Island, the site of the Apollo...
(The entire section is 656 words.)
SOURCE: A review of If the Sun Dies, in Scientific American, Vol. 216, No. 3, March 1967, pp. 144-45.
[In the following review, Kendrew praises Fallaci's If the Sun Dies as "one of very few pioneer works in a new genre."]
The knowing publishers have placed on the dust jacket of this book [If the Sun Dies] a full-page photograph of its young Florentine author, curled barefoot in a chair with her long blonde hair loosened. This is the lady who visits NASA, in Houston and Los Angeles and Cape Kennedy and Huntsville and White Sands, who confronts astronauts and Ray Bradbury, public-relations men and motel keepers with her memories of vineyard and basilica, her literary values and her human charm. She asks these people "Why?" and "Who are you?" She tells the story with hot candor and a sharp eye, out of a remarkable experience of life.
The book, in rushing and poetic prose, turned into flowing colloquial English by Pamela Swinglehurst, takes the form of long reflective letters to a distant father—off there in a villa in Chianti, a Tuscan country gentleman who was something of a hero in the Resistance. The war and the Nazi terror are strong in the book. Wernher von Braun (Doctor von Braun, the public-relationsman insists weakly throughout the colloquy) is portrayed: likable, forceful, versatile, extraordinary, dominant. But over the whole of this expansive...
(The entire section is 535 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Nothing, and So Be It, in Saturday Review, Vol. IV, No. 10, March 18, 1972, pp. 75-76.
[In the following review, Parton considers the Vietnam experiences that are the basis of Fallaci's Nothing, and So Be It.]
"Life, what is it?" asked Oriana Fallaci's small sister the night before the well-known Italian journalist was to leave for Vietnam. "Life is the time that passes from the moment we're born to the moment we die … that's all" the older sister replied. Nothing, and So Be It is the harrowing account of Miss Fallaci's search, in the midst of man's utmost bestialities, for a better answer to that question.
The diary of her three trips to Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, which comprises the bulk of the book, reveals Miss Fallaci as a woman who is not only courageous but passionately honest as well. She admits to being terrified at Dak To, an American airstrip under constant fire by the North Vietnamese, but she unflinchingly faces mutilated corpses or the stray, detached hand—"yellow, stiff-fingered … Leftover from three days ago." The blood of dead Americans, South Vietnamese, and Viet Cong stains her pages, and Miss Fallaci tells us exactly how these people died. The screams of a three-year-old burned by napalm, a pregnant woman with her abdomen ripped open, a man undergoing the torture of electric shocks in the genitals are heard throughout this book....
(The entire section is 936 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Letter to a Child Never Born, in America, Vol. 136, No. 12, March 26, 1977, p. 279.
[In the following review, Stahel discusses the plot outline and the ideas raised in Fallaci's novel Letter to a Child Never Born.]
Imagine the embarrassment of an Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, who, because she has written a novel that certain Catholics approve, now finds that her liberal credentials have grown suspect. In one effort to rehabilitate herself (and to sell her book), she appeared on the "Today" show recently and assured Tom Brokaw that she, like other "civilized people," was politically for abortion. When Mr. Brokaw assayed the touchy question as to whether this short novel were autobiographical, Miss Fallaci, who is unmarried, answered: I am a woman, with a womb, who was pregnant, who lost her child; but the novel is a construction. It uses the author's experiences and ideas, but it is not the author's history.
The protagonist of this quasi-autobiographical novel explicitly rejects belief in God, family and the Catholic Church. Yet she resolutely decides not to have the abortion that lover, friend and employer urge, and she even hangs near her bed pictures of a developing fetus—at four weeks, eight weeks and so on—the kind certain pro-lifers distribute so aggressively and pro-abortionists ignore so determinedly. In the end,...
(The entire section is 537 words.)
SOURCE: "Fallaci Records: Unanswered Questions," in Harper's, Vol. 261, No. 1566, November 1980, pp. 98-99.
[In the following review, Burke considers Fallaci's devices in genres such as interviews, non-fiction works, and the novel.]
Oh, come now, there's no need to be Herodotus; for better or worse you'll contribute a little stone to help compose the mosaic; you'll provide information to help make people think. And if you make a mistake, never mind.
—from the introduction to Interview with History
Oriana Fallaci has done rather well for herself by asking famous people questions. In the beginning of her career she interviewed entertainment celebrities, like Dean Martin and Michael Caine. Then she hit her stride with political figures, like Henry Kissinger, Yasir Arafat, and Willy Brandt. Rolling Stone is credited with a blurb on the paperback cover of Interview with History (1976), her collection of fourteen political tête-à-têtes: "the greatest political interviewer of modern times." I suppose one might consider Socrates a great interviewer of ancient times. Question-and-answerjournalism as a self-sufficient genre, however, is a fairly recent phenomenon and one that has certified as celebrities Fallaci in print and Barbara Walters, among others, on television. In fact, to...
(The entire section is 1899 words.)
SOURCE: "A Journalist in Love," in New York Times Book Review, November 23, 1980, pp. 14, 35.
[In the following review of A Man, Gornik assesses the strengths and failings of Fallaci's method and style.]
It becomes more and more common that a book feels like a memoir, essay or reportage but is called fiction, and at book's end one finds oneself protesting: "That's not a novel." The source of the protest is not, I think, either devotion to literary orthodoxy or a concern that a spade be called a spade. It is just that most often when journalism is called fiction, the authority of honest reportage is mysteriously lost without the command of imaginative transformation having been gained, and sometimes atrocities of language clearly related to the ambition released by the words "a novel" are committed as well. The book under review is a case in point.
Oriana Fallaci is an Italian journalist famous the world over for her political interviews. Indignantly democratic and possessed of a vigorous hatred of dictatorship, Miss Fallaci's work is characterized by a pugnacious insistence, somewhat like that of an aroused child stamping her feet and demanding to be told the truth. From her inviolate position behind the microphone she points, probes, insinuates and mocks, provoking her subjects—mainly men of great power—into regretted revelation. The results are almost always...
(The entire section is 1038 words.)
SOURCE: "Oriana Fallaci's Discovery of Truth in Niente E Cosi Sia," in European Studies Journal, Volume III, No. 2, 1986, pp. 11-23.
[In the following essay, Arico compares Fallaci's style and techniques with those of the documentary film genres cinéma vérité and direct cinema.]
Although Oriana Fallaci is best known as a political interviewer, she is also recognized as an accomplished author of three novels and five works of non-fiction. Niente E Cosi Sia, [Nothing and So Be It] the writer's novelistic report of the most unpopular war in American history, earned Italy's Premio Bancarella and placed her in the ranks of the most severe critics of United States foreign policy during the Vietnam War. Fallaci went to Vietnam in November 1967 with definite pro-Vietcong convictions. The reasons for her political stance are clearly developed in Niente E Cosi Sia and are characteristic of many thinkers who were critical of American involvement. Nevertheless, the author's political view evolves: her personal opinions change drastically. After a bitter inward struggle, what was apparent truth becomes less clearly defined and takes on a new complexion. The odyssey toward a final and different level of veracity constitutes one of the outstanding features of the work and helps to elevate what could have been just a journalist's diary to the category of good literature. What is equally...
(The entire section is 5531 words.)
SOURCE: "Breaking the Ice: An In-Depth Look at Oriana Fallaci's Interview Techniques," in Journalism Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 3, Autumn 1986, pp. 587-93.
[In the following essay, Arico examines the techniques that he believes make Fallaci an effective and engaging interviewer.]
Although Oriana Fallaci is recognized as an accomplished author of three novels and five works of nonfiction, she is best known today as a political interviewer. Using her skills, she has not only exposed some of the world's most powerful and intransigent political leaders but has also made history with them. She confronts her interviewees with no inhibitions but as their intellectual peer and social equal. She boldly interrogated Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Thieu about the corruption in South Vietnam's regime during the Vietnam war and lured former Secretary of State Kissinger into describing himself as a lone gunslinger on a horse as he traveled around the world on diplomatic missions. After Fallaci printed her interview with Ali Bhutto, the Pakistani Prime Minister had so many adverse political repercussions that he begged her several times to retract her statements and to proclaim publically that she had fabricated the story. When Alvaro Cunhal openly admitted that his Portuguese Communist Party viewed national elections as a game, he severely set back the efforts of European Communism to prove its faith in the democratic...
(The entire section is 3939 words.)
SOURCE: "Designing Mothers: Images of Motherhood in Novels by Aleramo, Morante, Maraini, and Fallaci," in Annali d'Italianistica, Vol. 7, 1989, pp. 325-40.
[In the following excerpt, Pickering-Iazzi compares the treatment of women and motherhood in novels by Fallaci and three other Italian writers.]
For its poetical suggestiveness and socio-cultural significance, motherhood has been a central interpretative image for twentieth-century women writers, designed to express female existence in its personal and social dimensions. The content and configurations of the maternal images in Una donna, La storia, Donna in guerra, and Lettera a un bambino mai nato [Letter to a Child Never Born] explain ways in which women writers conceptualize maternity, delineating the essential designs of motherhood as social institution and as personal experience. Aleramo, seeking to create an authentic rendering of female existence, articulates the protagonist's intimate drama of entrapment within the socially imposed maternal role and her escape for purposeful identity as woman, mother, and writer, thereby illustrating the disparity between institutionalized motherhood and the realities of mothering. Morante's depiction of Ida explicates the male-authored metaphor of motherhood, subverting the institution's ideological and historical designs as a means for an authentic relationship to self and being. The novels by...
(The entire section is 1569 words.)
SOURCE: "Oriana Fallaci's Journalistic Novel: Niente e così sia," in Contemporary Women Writers in Italy, edited by Santo L. Arico, The University of Massachusetts Press, 1990, pp. 171-82.
[In the following essay, Arico examines the meeting of journalistic and novelistic techniques in Fallaci's Niente e così sia.]
Although Oriana Fallaci is best known as a political interviewer, she is also recognized as an ardent practitioner of New Journalism. According to the critic James C. Murphy, this innovative approach allows the journalist's opinions, ideas, and commitments to permeate the story. Correspondents become so intensely involved that they attack their assignments with missionary zeal. Murphy refers to this subjectivity as activism in news reporting. Fallaci's effort to write Niente e così sia (Nothing and Amen), her report of the war in Vietnam, is a classic example of such activism. The personal nature of her account runs counter to more conventional journalistic objectivity, and her bias colors the narration. Her anti-American and pro-Vietcong feelings are a matter of public record, but during her stay in wartorn Vietnam, Fallaci's perceptions undergo a noticeable transition and this change develops into one of the most interesting aspects of her book. The zeal with which she embraces her assignment is obvious. She spends nearly a year on location, compulsively covering dangerous...
(The entire section is 5014 words.)
SOURCE: "Waiting for the Suicide Truck," in The New York Times Book Review, December 27, 1992, p. 8.
[In the following review, Keneally discusses Fallaci's reportage of the Beirut conflict.]
"Inshallah" is a phrase one hears everywhere in the Arab world. It is an utterance of Arab stoicism, meaning "God willing." But God's will is savage indeed in the Beirut that Oriana Fallaci so palpably renders for us.
With the large-scale vigor that is typical of Ms. Fallaci's work, Inshallah begins on the night in October 1983 when two members of a Khomeinist sect, the Sons of God, crash suicide trucks, one into the American Marine compound, the other into the French compound. Nearly 300 young American marines and French troops are destroyed in an instant.
The third large peace-keeping force in the city is the Italians, and Ms. Fallaci's novel is concerned with the Italian officers and men during the three winter months following the explosion as they wait for the "third truck" to strike.
On the edge of the mass graves of the Shatilah Palestinian refugee camp, the Italians try to keep peace between the Palestinian Amal militia and the Lebanese Government forces of President Amin Gemayel, and dodge suicide attacks by the Sons of God and stray shells from the artillery fire of the Druze.
The main onus of preventing the "third truck" from...
(The entire section is 986 words.)
SOURCE: "Dogs," in London Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 3, February 11, 1993, p. 19.
[In the following review of Inshallah, Bennett assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Fallaci's portrayal of war-torn Beirut.]
Set in Beirut in the early Eighties, Oriana Fallaci's novel [Inshallah] opens at the moment when, on the morning of 23 October 1983, an Islamic Jihad militant drove a truck laden with explosives into the headquarters of the US contingent of the Multinational Force (MNF). A second suicide bomber attacked the French military base at the same time. Altogether more than three hundred servicemen were killed.
The Americans and French had returned to the city the previous year, along with a body of Italian troops, after the catastrophic Israeli invasion of the Lebanon. The MNF's presence was highly controversial and subject to conflicting interpretations. Its self-proclaimed goal was vague and, with hindsight, absurdly optimistic: to protect the innocent from slaughter and oversee a return to some kind of normality. Others, perhaps casting their minds back to 1958 when US Marines landed at Beirut to fight off 'international communism', saw the MNF's presence as yet another show of force on the part of a Western bloc determined to impose its will on a vulnerable part of the Arab world. Fallaci takes the generous view of the MNF's role, and the book's heroes are the...
(The entire section is 1939 words.)
Brunette, Peter. Review of A Man, by Oriana Fallaci. New Republic (22 November 1980): 37-38.
A brief review of Fallaci's book, A Man.
Kapp, Isa. "Oriana Fallaci and the Facts of Life," in Washington Post Book World (13 February 1977): G7, G10.
A short review of Fallaci's book Letter to a Child never Born. Kapp comments briefly on how the subject of abortion has had "relatively little place in literature until recently," and on Fallaci's advanced style and technique in the semi-autobiographical novel.
Cott, Jonathan. "How to Unclothe an Emperor: The Rolling Stone Interview with Oriana Fallaci, The Greatest Political Interviewer of Modern Times," in Rolling Stone No. 215 (17 June 1976): 44-47, 66, 68, 71.
An in-depth interview in which Cott reveals Fallaci's methods for preparing for interviews, and discusees several of the high points of her interviewing career, including excerpts from talks with Henry Kissinger, Yasir Arafat, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, and Indira Ghandi.
(The entire section is 181 words.)