Oriana Fallaci Fallaci, Oriana (Vol. 110) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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."

Major Works

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."

Critical Reception

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."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 Economist (review date 14 November 1964)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 493 words.)

Peter J. Henniker-Heaton (review date 17 November 1966)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 679 words.)

Willy Ley (review date 5 February 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 656 words.)

John C. Kendrew (review date March 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 535 words.)

Margaret Parton (review date 18 March 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


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Thomas H. Stahel (review date 26 March 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Jeffrey Burke (review date November 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1899 words.)

Vivian Gornick (review date 23 November 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1038 words.)

Santo L. Arico (essay date 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5531 words.)

Santo L. Arico (essay date Autumn 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3939 words.)

Robin Pickering-Iazzi (essay date 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1569 words.)

Santo L. Arico (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5014 words.)

Thomas Keneally (review date 27 December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 entire section is 986 words.)

Ronan Bennett (review date 11 February 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


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.


(The entire section is 181 words.)