Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend

Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend


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A landmark biography of the most famous Italian journalist of the twentieth century, an inspiring and often controversial woman who defied the codes of reportage and established the "La Fallaci" style of interview.

Oriana Fallaci is known for her uncompromising vision. To retrace Fallaci's life means to retrace the course of history from World War II to 9/11.

As a child, Fallaci enlisted herself in the Italian Resistance alongside her father. Her hatred of fascism and authoritarian regimes would accompany her throughout her life. Covering the entertainment industry early on in her career, she created an original, abrasive interview style, focusing on her subject's emotions, contradictions, and facial expressions more than their words. When she grew bored of interviewing movie stars and directors, she turned her attention to the greatest international figures of the time: Khomeini, Gaddafi, Indira Gandhi, and Kissinger, placing herself front and center in the story. Reporting from the front lines of the world's greatest conflicts, she provoked her own controversies wherever she was stationed, leaving behind epic collateral damage in her wake.

Thanks to unprecedented access to personal records, Cristina De Stefano brings back to life a remarkable woman whose groundbreaking work and torrid love affairs will not soon be forgotten. Oriana Fallaci allows a new generation to discover her story, and witness the passionate, persistent journalism that we urgently need in these times of upheaval and uncertainty.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590517864
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 10/17/2017
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 1,213,805
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Cristina De Stefano is a journalist and writer. She lives and works in Paris as a literary scout for many publishing houses in the world. Her books, Belinda e il mostro. Vita segreta di Cristina Campo (Adelphi 2002) and Americane avventurose (Adelphi 2007) have been translated in French, German, Spanish and Polish.

Read an Excerpt



"I don't know anything about how my father and my mother met. The only clue to the mystery of my birth is a phrase my mother used to repeat: 'It all happened because of a hat full of cherries.'" Among all the family stories she heard as a child, this was the detail she loved the most: a bright red hat, worn like a beacon. Years later, placed on the head of someone other than her mother, it would supply the title to her posthumous novel, Un cappello pieno dei ciliege (A hat full of cherries). Anything else is speculation.

The meeting must have occurred somewhere in Florence on a late-summer afternoon in 1928, one of those hot days that drive people outdoors. Edoardo Fallaci, twenty-four, has just a few coins to his name. He works as a wood-carver and lives with his parents. He dreams of immigrating to Argentina to seek his fortune. He is not especially tall but has an attractively chiseled face and impertinent blue eyes. Tosca Cantini is twenty-two. After losing her mother when she was young, her anarchist sculptor father sent her off to work for two seamstresses. They have grown fond of her and raised her to be a well-mannered young lady. Eventually, they find her a job with a dowager who wants to take her to Paris as a companion. But on that day, Tosca decides to wear an eye-catching hat decorated with red fruit. It shows off her pretty face and high cheekbones. "What pretty cherries," the gallant Edoardo comments. Sometime later, on a ramble on Monte Morello, Oriana is conceived.

"My mother always said that when she first got pregnant, she didn't want me. She drank Epsom salts every night all the way through the fourth month of her pregnancy, to induce an abortion. But one night, just as she was about to put the glass to her lips, I moved in her belly, almost as if I were saying, 'I want to be born!' And then and there she poured the Epsom salts into a flower vase. 'And that's why you were born,' she used to say." Tosca had other dreams. She wanted to travel the world, to meet artists. She had friends in Florence's bohemian circles, particularly the painter Ottone Rosai, who courted her. "She used to say he was a 'handsome bear of a man,' quite the opposite of my father, who was small and lean."

When it becomes clear that there is no way around it, Edoardo introduces Tosca to his parents. His mother, Giacoma, known for her unpleasant character, is unwelcoming and takes every opportunity to be unkind. In contrast, his father, Antonio, takes a liking to the girl. This only makes matters worse. Tosca quickly becomes a kind of Cinderella in their home. "One of my first memories," says Oriana, "was of my mother crying as she did the laundry." The sight of this highly intelligent woman forced to serve the entire family marks her profoundly. Often in interviews she recalls that her mother was the first to encourage her ambitions. "It was my mother who used to say, in tears, 'Don't be like me! Don't become a slave to your husband and your children! Study! Go out into the world!' I didn't want to follow her footsteps, I wanted to vindicate her." In 1977, during the acceptance speech for an honorary degree from Columbia College in Chicago, she declares, "I dedicate this honor to my mother, Tosca Fallaci, who was unable to go to college because she was a woman and because she was poor at a time when women and the poor could not get an education."

On June 29, 1929, the baby is baptized. Oriana is an unusual name for the time. Her parents, who are passionate readers, name her after Oriane, Proust's Duchesse de Guermantes. "'You weren't red and wrinkly like the other newborns,' my mother used to say. 'You were pale, smooth-skinned, and beautiful. And you never cried. Babies cry, but not you. You were always silent. You observed the world around you, and us, without a sound. By the eighth day I started to worry. I thought you had been born without vocal cords, so I took you to the doctor. He checked you and said, no, no, there's nothing wrong. Then he tickled your feet and you exploded in great peals of laughter.'"

Everyone lives together in the big house on Via del Piaggione: Edoardo's parents, grandparents, and unmarried sisters. As an adult, Oriana can remember every detail of the house, and over time, bit by bit, she takes it with her. A painted wardrobe goes to her apartment in New York; her parents' bed and a glass-fronted bookcase goes to her apartment in Florence; a side table from the parlor ends up in her country home. The house overlooks the whole city, with Brunelleschi's dome and Giotto's bell tower in the foreground, and farther off the rooftops and bridges of Florence. One room contains Grandfather's worktable, where he repairs the family's shoes. Oriana watches him for hours and enjoys carrying out small tasks. She avoids Grandma Giacoma, who is always in a bad mood and has a heavy hand. She considers Grandfather Antonio's room a kind of refuge: "He was a very affectionate man and always looked out for me. In a family where nobody smiled, he was always smiling."

After her, two more girls are born: Neera in 1932 and Paola in 1938. Later, in 1964, when they are adults, the family adopts an orphan, Elisabetta. There are no boys, but Edoardo treats Oriana like a son. "My father was upset that I wasn't a boy. So he took me hunting with him." He teaches her how to shoot and takes her everywhere with him. He waits with her at dawn in the shooting hut when flocks of thrushes descend on the fields. Years later Oriana will recall every detail — the pungent cold of the early morning, her eyes staring up at the sky, whispered voices. "If a bird comes from the left, it's mine. If it comes from the right, it's yours. And if they come in a flock, we both shoot, on the count of three." "Si, Papà!"

Edoardo is a man of few words, demanding of himself and of others. He raises his eldest daughter like a soldier. One of Oriana's most vivid childhood memories is related to this toughness. She's fifteen; she and her father are walking down a street in Florence. A bomb siren rings out. They take refuge in a building. The thunder of aircraft becomes deafening. Oriana can't find the courage to embrace her father. She cowers in a corner, rolled up in a ball. As the bombs begin to fall, the floor and walls shudder, and she starts to cry. She is surprised by a slap; it takes her breath away. "Young ladies don't cry," her father hisses. Oriana often recounts this episode in order to illustrate why she tries never to cry in public. She will often have reason to cry, and she does — "Crying helps, it allows you vomit out your pain" — but almost never in the presence of others.

Another male relative who plays a central role in her life is Bruno Fallaci, her father's elder brother, whom everyone refers to as Settecervelli (seven brains). Bruno is the intellectual of the family. He belongs to a world apart, the world of writers. He is married to Gianna Manzini, a successful journalist. He edits the cultural page in the Florentine newspaper La Nazione and later becomes the editor of the magazine Epoca. He is Oriana's first, perhaps only, teacher, and she will make references to him her whole life: "When he enumerated the rules of journalism, he would say, 'First of all, don't bore the reader!'" Tosca often cleans for them, and she brings her daughter along. Gianna Manzini sits on the couch, reading a book and smoking fragrant cigarettes through a long black cigarette holder. Every so often, without interrupting her reading, she extends a beautiful bejeweled hand toward a glass bowl of gianduiotti chocolates. "Don't dare ask for one!" Tosca warns Oriana before every visit. In one of her books, Oriana evokes the humiliation she felt watching her aunt unwrap each chocolate without even a glance in her direction, as if she didn't exist. Thirty years later, she can still taste the bitterness of this injustice. And yet she can't help but be struck by Gianna's beauty. She watches as her aunt prepares to go out, adjusting her fur hat and wrap. Gianna Manzini is tall and elegant, with a slender face and large eyes that she accentuates with great care.

No one in the family likes her. Oriana remembers her grandmother Giacoma slamming down a bouquet of flowers, a gift from her daughter-in-law, as she mutters, "Who needs flowers?! Why don't you sew the buttons on my son's shirts instead?!" One afternoon during a walk with Oriana and Grandfather Antonio, Gianna Manzini climbs up on the parapet of the Ponte Vecchio and cries out, "Look, I'll jump! I'll jump!" He taps his cane impatiently on the paving stones. "Go ahead, jump! Jump! But hurry, I need to take the girl home." Gianna Manzini leaves Bruno in 1933 and moves to Rome, disappearing from Oriana's childhood. However, she leaves behind one trace: her elegant handwriting, with its rounded vowels, which Oriana effortfully imitates, copying out letters for hours in her school notebooks. Thus, her signature — which will one day be famous and unmistakable — is born.

But most of her childhood memories are memories of poverty. There's not enough to eat, and her mother often feigns a lack of appetite so that her daughters will have more. When Oriana is sent out to buy food, she is ashamed of the tiny quantities she can afford. As the shop owners crane their necks to see her over the counter, she requests two ounces of cheese, two ounces of jam. "But we held our heads high," she later says. "You wouldn't have guessed we were poor. We were always well dressed and clean. Mamma was good at turning our clothes inside out and making a new dress out of an old one." Edoardo is a fine carpenter; he works passionately, filling the house with furniture he has made with his own hands. But he doesn't have much business sense and the family's finances are precarious. "Don't forget that your father is an artist," Tosca reminds her daughters.

From a very young age, Oriana is drawn to one particular object, a relic of another age. It is a carved trousseau chest with lions' feet and iron latches. Everyone calls it "Ildebranda's trunk," after an ancestor who, it is said, was burned at the stake as a heretic. Oriana stares at it for hours, making up stories about her. Whenever someone opens it, she eagerly digs through its contents. It contains the family keepsakes, all piled together: a spelling book and an abacus, a French medical textbook, a stringless lute, a clay pipe, a pincenez, a Catalan passport, a mended Italian flag, an ancient coin, the last letter written by a Napoleonic soldier before freezing to death in Russia. Each object inspires endless questions. When her grandparents are in the mood, she is able to elicit bits and pieces of information, rich with promise: Montserrat played the lute, even after she was confined to the madhouse ... Caterina used to treat the whole county with the help of Dr. Barbette's medical tome ... Giobatta came back from the war with his face disfigured by a cannon shot.

The trunk is destroyed, along with the rest of the house, during a bombing raid in 1944. Oriana will pine for it the rest of her days. Later, she will ask her father to build an exact replica, which she keeps in her apartment in New York. A few letters, written in Curtatone and Montanara by an ancestor who volunteered in the First War of Independence, will be saved because Oriana has copied them out in a school workbook. Even at a young age, she knows that every object tells a story, if you know how to listen.

When Edoardo Fallaci becomes ill with pleurisy in 1934, money becomes even more scarce. The family moves to a basement on the Piazza del Carmine. Oriana whiles away the hours watching people's legs and feet as they pass by the family's barred window. Her father is weak and spends most of his time in bed. His friends try to convince him to apply for a Fascist Party card, which would allow him a pension, but he refuses. "I can still see him lying there in bed," Oriana says, "burning with fever, coughing, and saying, 'Never, never.'" Everyone in the family is opposed to the Fascists. One day, old Antonio Fallaci is arrested. "Grandfather was seventy-eight at the time, but he used to get into fights with the Fascists. On that day he had yelled out, 'Mussolini stinks!' They took him to the Fascist headquarters, shut him in a storage closet, and said he would be put on trial. His wife went and apologized on his behalf, and they wanted to take her too."

Resistance runs in the family. Oriana speaks admiringly of her maternal grandfather, Augusto Cantini, who died penniless in a beggars' hospital. An anarchist, as a young man he had deserted in order to avoid going to a war that, to his eyes, was a quarrel among imperialist forces. "Other kids grew up brainwashed by the cult of the First World War, but in my family people told stories about this grandfather, a deserter. My mother would say, proudly, 'My father was a deserter in the First World War.'" As a small child, Oriana listens with fascination as he sings old revolutionary songs: "As long as we behave like oxen / The landowners will decide / As long as the Anarchist Sun don't shine / We'll be the first to die."

Edoardo Fallaci becomes a card-carrying Socialist at seventeen; in 1923, he is injured in a fight with a group of Fascists. In 1929, he begins collaborating with the clandestine group Giustizia e Libertà and comes into contact with other antifascists in the city. Tosca agrees with his political stance, but she stays away from party meetings. "To my mother, politics were a male luxury. She was too busy keeping us alive, making sure we were fed and warm, and overseeing our studies to have time to explain why Mussolini was bad. He just was and that was that." Edoardo and Tosca are Oriana's first heroes; for the rest of life, she will ascribe great importance to the notion of heroism: "I was lucky enough to be brought up by courageous parents. Both physically and morally. My father was a hero of the Resistance and my mother was just as brave."

As a child, she is often left in the care of her aunt Lina for long periods. Lina is one of her father's sisters; she has no children but is married to a wealthy man. With her, Oriana discovers another world: vacations on the shore at Forte dei Marmi, a maid who calls her "miss," tea with cookies from the Robiglio bakery. In the spring, her aunt takes her to concerts at the Maggio Fiorentino and has a long black velvet dress made for her. Her uncle is quick with his fists; she doesn't like him. And he's a Fascist. "He had a truncheon in his room. I didn't understand what it was for until one day he took it with him to Incisa Valdarno; when he returned, it was stained in blood. "'Do you know whose blood this is?' he asked. 'The pharmacist's. We gave him a lesson. Sooner or later, we'll give all those bigi a lesson.' I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. He referred to my father, too, as a bigio, as in, 'that bigio who believes in democracy, who admires France and England!' My father never knew: he was convinced that underneath, he was a good man."

In 1938, Oriana's aunt takes her to watch Hitler and Mussolini parade down the streets of Florence in an open limousine covered in red lilies and black swastikas. Ever-darker clouds are gathering over Europe. The Second World War is about to erupt. Oriana's childhood is about to come to an end.



The date June 10, 1940, is deeply imprinted in her memory. Oriana is playing with her sisters on the terrace when her father comes home earlier than usual. Edoardo looks upset. He drops his jacket on the floor and slumps in a chair, yelling, "That madman has declared war!" Tosca is in the kitchen preparing dinner. The only thing that changes is that she slams the pots down with more force, muttering "scoundrels, cowards, murderers!" in a voice crackling with rage.

The war is the central event in Oriana's life: "I grew up in the war. As a little girl that's all I saw, all I heard about." The bombings, which were particularly brutal in Florence, are among her most burning memories. The rumble of planes that fills the air like the growls of a dangerous beast, sparks illuminating the sky, shelters filled with people who cry and pray as her mother tells her not to be afraid. "I didn't miss a single bombing. By some bitter twist of fate, I was always in the wrong place when the bombs began to fall. But I was never injured. Considering the danger, I had strange, even extraordinary luck." Oriana recalls seeing an old man, a neighbor, fall as they run toward the shelter. No one stops to help. She remembers a priest shot by the Fascists. She remembers months spent with her grandparents in the country, at Mercatale Val di Pesa. "I was accustomed to hunger, fear, and to the cold," she would say many years later during a speech in Germany.


Excerpted from "Oriana Fallaci"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Cristina De Stefano.
Excerpted by permission of Other Press LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 A Family in Which Nobody Smiles, 3,
2 A Little Girl Accustomed to Fear, and to the Cold, 15,
3 A House Full of Books, 26,
4 The Kid at the Paper, 32,
5 That Pen of Oriana's, 43,
6 Discovering America, 53,
7 First Love, 65,
8 Around the World, 74,
9 Penelope's Revenge, 86,
10 Conquering the Moon, 98,
11 Miss Root Beer, 108,
12 Saigon and So Be It, 117,
13 Backpack and Helmet, 133,
14 A Man of Few Words, 147,
15 Interviews with History, 161,
16 A Hero, 179,
17 Unborn Children, 193,
18 The Arabian Desert, 203,
19 The Return, 211,
20 Inshallah, 221,
21 Ildebranda's Trunk, 230,
22 The Great Silence, 242,
23 The Rage and the Pride, 254,
Acknowledgments, 269,
Books by Oriana Fallaci, 274,
Books About Oriana Fallaci, 275,
Photo Credits, 276,
Index of Names, 277,

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