Infamous Italian interviewer features in new biography to mixed results

March 29, 2018 - Non-Fiction, Reviews
Author: Cristina de Stefano
Publisher: Other Press

Americans often consider journalism in terms of large American institutions like The New York Times and The Washington Post, but a new biography in translation from Italian journalist Cristina de Stefano paints a picture of the Italian journalist-cum-firebrand Oriana Fallaci.

Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend examines Fallaci as a pioneer. Fallaci was the only major female international journalist in Italy’s press corps; she stared down leaders like Muammar Qaddafi, Henry Kissinger, Indira Gandhi, and Yasser Arafat in her infamous Interviews with History; she wrote candidly of public figures and of herself through narratives of her miscarriage and her personal heartbreak.

The book apparently attempts to spend equal effort on the personal and political aspects of Fallaci’s identity. The reader sees how her strong antifascist views developed in the context of Italian Partisans in World War II, but also how she formed friendships with American astronauts in the 1970s. At times the two intersect as when she suffered heartbreak at the hands of a fellow journalist on the frontlines of the Vietnam War.

To the average reader, Fallaci’s life would likely seem interesting enough to captivate. One year she writes on movie stars in 1950s Hollywood, the next she gets shot covering a story in Mexico and the next she writes a book about the space race after spending months with American astronauts in Texas. De Stefano includes a letter where Fallaci describes her resentment toward strictures that keep her tied to one place.

“’I never know when I will arrive or when I will depart,’ she explains in a lengthy irritated missive. ‘I may find myself and decide, on the spur of the moment, to take a quick trip to Mexico City to buy a sombrero. You may find that bizarre… but writers are always a bit mad.’”

Beyond her novelty, Fallaci should be remembered as a woman of her times. She was not a president or a pope, but she had some small hand or role in phenomena across the globe. Fallaci’s combative journalism challenged despots and deviants, just as much as it rankled the journalistic establishment and male colleagues who envied her notoriety.

While Fallaci herself was worth of biography, the reader may leave unsure whether de Stefano was a worthy biographer. At less than 300 pages, de Stefano could have used more pages or better storytelling to investigate Fallaci’s later life. Some portions feel like a routinized run-through of events Fallaci experienced, rather than demonstrations of who she was.
Similarly, de Stefano seems to sometimes Plenty of words and pages are devoted to Fallaci’s leftist and anti-fascist credentials; she is known to hate those who attenuate the liberties of others and to never sit satisfied while fascistic politicians go unchallenged. At the end of her life, however, Fallaci became an idol of the far-right for her firm support for the War on Terror, even in its more Islamophobic or illiberal patterns.

While de Stefano spends plenty of time examining her heartbreak or her commitment to her work, she spends barely any pages considering this tectonic shift in her politics. Such a blindspot in a biography of a stubborn and political person like Fallaci represents a greater flaw: de Stefano seems more interested in admiring Fallaci than writing her life as it was. Her inclination is understandable, but it does detract from the book.

Despite de Stefano’s occasional missteps, Fallaci’s story stays strong throughout. Her trials and her tribulations are worth discovering and the book remains readable due to her distinct character. Readers should certainly consider delving into the Oriana Fallaci of Oriani Fallaci


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