The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend
By Cristina De Stefano
Translated by Marina Harss
Illustrated. 282 pp. Other Press. $25.95.
Someone should write an opera about her: La Fallaci, beautiful, extravagant, courageous survivor of war and tempestuous love affairs, speaker of truth to power. But for now, Cristina De Stefano’s new biography of the Italian journalistic superstar Oriana Fallaci — unabashed hagiography to counter the writer’s late-life reputational demise — must suffice.
Fallaci was born in 1929 to working-class parents and proved her dauntlessness as a tiny, pigtailed bike messenger for anti-Fascists in World War II Florence, when she was just 14. By her early 20s, she was in Rome covering Hollywood on the Tiber, honing her craft on fizzy stories about European royals and Italian movie goddesses. Eventually she began traveling frequently to California, lounging poolside with more movie stars and filing more stories. She got herself assigned to cover NASA and the astronauts she adored (one of whom, De Stefano speculates rather fancifully, fathered one of Fallaci’s pregnancies, which ended in a miscarriage).
Fallaci then moved on to the subjects that made her famous: war and global politics. Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger, Deng Xiaoping, Ariel Sharon and Ayatollah Khomeini were just a few of the world leaders and statesmen who submitted to her trademark hourslong interviews, enduring her provocative questions while sharing breaks with her ubiquitous cigarettes.
Her interviews remain studies in speaking truth to power. Interviewing Ayatollah Khomeini, she famously called the chador a “stupid, medieval rag” and took it off, provoking the Ayatollah to leave the room. (It is a testament to her journalistic power that he came back the next day.) She badgered Ariel Sharon about the meaning of the word “terrorist” and accused him of having been one himself. She got Henry Kissinger to compare himself to a cowboy, alone “with his horse and nothing else.” Nixon, De Stefano writes, “was not at all pleased by the cowboy metaphor.”
The relationships she forged with lovers — fellow journalists, a Greek revolutionary — were never lasting, and they often ended with her never speaking of them again, casting them into “the Siberia of my emotions,” as she put it. Her first love led to a suicide attempt and time in a psych ward, leaving her with the pithy conviction that “falling in love is giving oneself over to another, hands tied.” Later she would say, “Living together with a man, the man one loves the most, the best of men, is an intolerable torment for a modern woman.” Men, she continued, “seek a mother in every woman, and especially the woman they marry or live with.”
Besides her provocative interviews, Fallaci is mostly remembered for “Letter to a Child Never Born,” her novel about a pregnant professional woman trying to choose between a career and a child. Fallaci was against abortion and became more stridently so in her later years, but De Stefano presents letters from Fallaci to her lover to suggest that the first of Fallaci’s several miscarriages may have been the result of a botched abortion.
See also : Oriana Fallaci – Wikipedia