Oriana Fallaci

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Biography of Oriana Fallaci a great Italian writer, an extraordinary journalist, exceptionally brave.

She was the first Italian woman war correspondent.

As a writer of twelve books, she sold twenty million copies worldwide.

She gained great international prestige as a journalist, especially for her interviews with famous people.

Childhood and youth of the writer Oriana Fallaci

Oriana Fallaci was born in Florence on June 29, 1929. She was the eldest of four sisters.

Duomo Florence
The Duomo of Florence, with its grand 114 m high dome, the work of Filippo Brunelleschi. Credit: Wikipedia

Oriana Fallaci’s childhood was spent in Mussolini’s fascist Italy.

Her father, Edoardo Fallaci, was a bricklayer and not at all sympathetic to the ideas of the Italian government of those years.

During the German occupation of Florence, Edoardo Fallaci was taken prisoner and tortured.

The adolescent Oriana was a partisan during World War II.

She joined, in her hometown, the underground Resistance movement: “Justice and Freedom“.

She was in charge of transporting ammunition from one part of the Arno to another.

Oriana Fallaci crossed the river at the point of dry, because the Germans had destroyed the bridges.

She studied media at the classical high school Galileo. She got scholarships to enter the Faculty of Medicine.

The writer’s vocation was due to her uncle Bruno

Her uncle Bruno Fallaci told her that studying medicine would help her become a writer.

But, since she needed to pay for her university studies, she devoted herself to writing short reports for a Florence newspaper.

Soon after, encouraged by her uncle Bruno, who was a journalist and editor of some weekly newspapers, she left medical studies and started working for the “Mattino dell’Italia centrale“, a Christian-inspired newspaper.

They commissioned her with different topics: events, judicial chronicle and customs.

She was fired from the newspaper because she refused to write an article in favor of Palmiro Togliatti (Secretary General of the Italian Communist Party), as the Director had ordered.

Since Uncle Bruno was the editor of a weekly in Milan, the young woman answered.

In order not to be accused of favoring her niece, her uncle entrusted her with the worst jobs. As Oriana said: “She gave me the infamous commissions”.

Beginning of her career as a reporter and journalist

In 1951, at age 22, she began writing articles for “L’Europeo“.

Oriana Fallaci was in charge of matters of fashions, news of society and events.

It was the professional beginning of her magnificent journalistic career.

In 1956, she traveled to New York for the first time to write about celebrities, society and the heart.

These experiences inspired her first book: “The Seven Deadly Sins of Hollywood“.

The prologue to the book was written by Orson Welles, already famous for his radio show “War of the Worlds“.

Orson Welles
Orson Welles in 1941. Credit: Wikimedia. CBS Radio

Works of Oriana Fallaci in the 1960s

She found herself at ease in New York City and settled there in the 1960s.

In 1961, she made a report on the condition of women in the East.

Her ideas and opinions in this regard were reflected in a book that was her first major editorial success: “Useless Sex – A Journey Around Women“.

Encouraged by the publisher, in 1962 she published “Penelope in war“, a fictional novel.

In the novel she tells the life of an Italian girl who goes to New York to work. And the girl meets people from her past there.

The space race was the big issue in the United States and in the world.

Oriana managed to interview who was in charge of the technicians and NASA astronauts Wernher von Braun, the architect of Nazi Germany’s V1 and V2 missiles, which had terrorized the British, during World War II.

Oriana dedicated her book “If the Sun Dies” to her father, which she published in 1965.

The book is based on what Urina Fallaci learned in these reports from Werner von Braun.

Her sympathy and professionalism earned her the affection of those who knew her during her visits to NASA.

She collected a lot of information about Apollo 11, the first spacecraft to land on the Moon.

In 1970, she published her book “That Day on the Moon“, where she collected many of her experiences from those mythical days.

Apolo 12
The crew that reached the Moon in Apollo XII. Credit: Wikimedia. POT

Apollo 12 was to be the second American spacecraft to land on lunar terrain.

A day before takeoff, Charles Conrad went to see Oriana, asking her for advice about the phrase to pronounce when he stepped on the moon.

Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to set foot on the Moon had said: “It is a small step for a man, but a great leap for humanity“.

Given Conrad’s short stature, Oriana recommended that he say: “For Neil it would be a small step; For me it has been a very big step ”. Commander Conrad said exactly that phrase when he got off Apollo 12 and stepped on the Moon.

Charles Conrad had brought with him to the Moon, a photo of his mother, and another of Oriana Fallaci. Good detail from Charles!

Two years earlier, in 1967, her newspaper, L’Europeo, had assigned her to Vietnam as a war correspondent.

Oriana Fallaci returned to that country twelve times in seven years.

She thoroughly documented the lies and atrocities, but also the heroism and generosity that she witnessed in that conflict.

She called it bloody madness and described the war with sharp criticism of both the VietCong and the Communists, as well as the Americans and the South Vietnamese.

In Vietnam, a little boy, a sad soldier. Credit: Pixabay. Jamed13

She captured her experiences of a year in this war that she lived in the first person, in the book “Nothing and so be it“, published in 1969.

In a passage of the book, she ridicules “the vandalism of the bourgeois students who dare to invoke Che Guevara, but who live in air-conditioned houses, go to school in Dad’s SUV and to the night club in a silk shirt“.

Towards the middle of 1968, she temporarily left the Vietnam front, and returned to the United States, to cover the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

Luther King
Martin Luther King murdered in 1968 when he was just 39 years old. Credit: Wikimedia. USMC-09611

On October 2, 1968, on the eve of the 1968 Mexico Olympics, there was a protest demonstration by Mexican students against the military occupation of the University campus.

During the brutal repression, known as “the Atlelolco massacre”, dozens of young people were killed.

Oriana was wounded by a machine gun blast; Believing that she was dead, they transferred her to a hospital mortuary, where a priest realized that she was alive.

In the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, more than 100 students were massacred. Credit: Marta Debayle

As a war correspondent she also followed the conflicts between India and Pakistan, those of South America and those of the Middle East.

In Greece, Oriana Fallaci fell in love

In 1973, Oriana had traveled to Greece, to cover the information regarding the opposition of the Greeks to the Dictatorship of the Colonels.

On August 21, 1973, she met Alexandros Panagoulis, one of the opposition leaders, who was persecuted, tortured and imprisoned for a long time.

They met the day Alexandros was released from prison.

They both liked each other and from that day on they formed a happy couple.

Alexandros Panogoulis, Greek poet and politician. Credit: Wikipedia

In 1975, Fallaci and Panagoulis collaborated in the investigations into the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a mutual friend.

Oriana was the first journalist to denounce the political motive for the poet’s murder.

Pier Paolo Passolini was a writer, poet, and film director. Credit: Flickr. smalloranges

On August 1, 1976, Alexandros Panagoulis died in a mysterious traffic accident.

Oriana Fallaci always considered the Panagoulis accident to be a homicide ordered by politicians who had made a career with the military junta.

The death of her beloved Alexandros deeply marked the life of the writer. She was expecting a son from him, but she lost him.

She captured her tremendous pain and deep emotion in the book she published in the same year of the murder of Alexandros, and which she dedicated to the son she was expecting: “Letter to a boy who was never born“.

The book was a major publishing success and four and a half million copies were sold worldwide.

Furthermore, Fallaci described the life of Panagoulis in her novel “A Man“, published in 1979.

Oriana Fallaci’s famous interviews

Her activity as a war reporter was followed by interviews with important personalities from politics and cinema.

Oriana Fallaci published analyzes of the main world events and of the most relevant contemporary issues.

Her acute psychological perception and exhaustive documentary preparation prior to the interviews, gave her a well-deserved reputation as a good writer.

Some of those interviews were collected in her book “Interview with history” published in 1974.

Oriana Fallaci interviewing the powerful Iranian ayatola, Khomeini. Credit: ABC. Jorge S. Casillas

The Rector of Columbia College of Chicago awarded her the “Honors Degree in Literature”; and at the award ceremony, he said of her that she was “one of the most widely read and loved writers in the world“.

Her style was always very personal and provocative.

She started from the hypothesis that the important thing about the interviews is not the questions but the answers.

She said that “If a person is talented, you can ask her the most trivial thing in the world: she will always answer in a brilliant and profound way”.

If a person is mediocre, even if she is asked the most intelligent question in the world, she will always respond mediocre.

Oriana Fallaci
Oriana Fallaci when she did her legendary interviews with famous people. Credit: Wikipedia

Oriana Fallaci reporter in the Lebanon war

In 1983, the Minister of Defense, Giovanni Spadolini, authorized Oriana Fallaci to become a member of the contingent of Italian troops sent to Beirut, under the command of the United Nations.

Lebanon was a country mired in cruel and useless war; and the UN had decided to intervene to bring peace to the Lebanese people.

In 1990, inspired by the hard experiences of the Italian troops, Oriana published “Inshallah“, an epic novel that crudely recreates the terrible situation of a country at war.

It is a chronicle of suffering, death and devastation.

Written with expertise and mastery, it is an act of love for those men and women, old and young, killed on the streets of Beirut.

Desolation in Beirut during the Lebanon War. Credit: Wikipedia. James Case

The book begins with the description of the first double suicide bombing by Islamic terrorists against the American and French barracks, which left 299 dead among the military.

The last years of Oriana Fallaci’s life

In 1991, she attended the Gulf War as a special envoy. It was the last time she worked as a war reporter.

Later, she retired to New York, where she lived in a two-story chalet on the Upper East Side in Manhattan.

There she began writing a novel that took her all the nineties, only interrupted by the events of September 11, 2001.

September 11
Attack on the Twin Towers in New York, on September 11, 2001. Credit: Wikipedia

In that year, she discovered that she had lung cancer, which she would later call “the alien”.

The novel was published after her death on July 30, 2008.

Entitled “A hat full of cherries”, it is about an Italian family saga that runs from 1773 to 1889.

Following the attack of September 11, 2001, through books and press articles, she denounced the decline of Western civilization, threatened by Islamic fundamentalism.

She believed that this is a planned attempt by the Islamic world to Islamize the West and subject it to the doctrines of the Koran.

She reiterated that the increasing pressure exerted in recent years by Islamic immigration to Europe, and in particular to Italy, together with the increase in attitudes of reciprocal intolerance, were proof of the correctness of her thesis.

Regarding her religious beliefs, she declared herself “atheist-Christian”.

In her book “The Force of Reason” she publicly showed her admiration for Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope received her in a private audience on August 27, 2005, at Castel Gandolfo.

Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) the 265th Pope of the Catholic Church. Credit: Wikimedia. WD Krause

In that year, 2005, she was aware of her poor health as a result of the cancer she suffered from.

She said she wanted to die in her hometown, looking at the Arno River from the Vecchio Bridge.

She was admitted to the Santa Chiara clinic. She died in Florence on September 15, 2006 at the age of 77.

Cemetery Oriana Fallaci
Tomb of Oriana Fallaci in the Cemetery of Laurels, in Florence. (Cimitero degli Allori). Credit: Creative Commons. I. Cyberullé

In 2015 Cristina De Stefano (Editorial Aguilar, 2015) published the first authorized biography of the famous Italian journalist and writer.

A year later, in 2016, her nephew and heir, Edoardo Perazzi, published a collection of 120 letters. She collected them in the book “Fear is a sin“.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.



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