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."