PARIS, France — Cristina De Stefano was a little girl, who had a great desire: to write a book about Oriana Fallaci, the most iconic Italian author, journalist and political interviewer of modern times.
Many years have passed since Cristina fantasised about becoming a war reporter in the Middle East, following Oriana Fallaci’s footsteps, so you can well understand Cristina’s joy when her publisher asked her to write the first authorised biography of Oriana Fallaci. Cristina spent the following three years searching for details of the life of Oriana: the cheerful, curious, inquiring, globetrotting reporter who was always ahead of her time.
“Oriana. Una Donna”: The Author
Cristina De Stefano is not only a journalist, but she is also a great literary scout and a writer. She is married to Claudio, whom she met during her years as a high school student in Pavia, Italy. Currently, they live and work in Paris with their two beautiful children: Lia and Marco.
Cristina loves reading: “I was very lucky to start working with books. Both as journalist for Elle magazine and literary scout – a sort of editorial consultant for Italian and French translation rights – I need to attend to books. Fortunately, there are some fabulous tablets for reading PDFs today.”
She loves nature, especially trees and lives in the suburbs [of Paris]. As she comments: “I could never stay in the city: too much noise.” When she is unable to write or tired of writing, it is the forest that inspires her.
“Oriana. Una Donna”: The Book
“I was born in 1967 and only a teenager when Oriana Fallaci was a global myth,” recalls Cristina. “I was really impressed by her book ‘Intervista con la storia‘, her way to interview the powerful was really a novelty.”
“So I decided to study journalism then when Oriana died, I thought it would be very interesting to talk about her, but I never dared to ask my publisher,” Cristina continues. “However I am a very lucky woman, and so Oriana’s heir, after reading my book Americane Avventurose, contacted my publisher in order to ask me if I wanted to write the biography of his aunt.”
Oriana Fallaci: From Italy to New York
Oriana Fallaci was born a poor child, but with the “habit of reading” (her house was always full of books), and she had an absolute certainty inside of her: “I will be a writer!”. As Cristina explains: “For Oriana books were sacred, she collected some rare and precious editions over her lifetime.”
“As a young girl, she was just too needy to think of making a living from narrative writing, so she became a journalist to support herself.”
In the 1950s, Oriana wrote about high society and show business for “L’Europeo”. She very soon discovered America and Oriana moved to New York in the 1960s, consecrating her global fame as a writer and journalist. She also experienced early literary success with titles such as “I Sette Peccati di Hollywood”, “Penelope alla Guerra” and “Se il Sole Muore”.
“With her reports from America, she kept her Italian readers informed about subjects such as Hollywood, then the American society and finally the space shuttle missions,“ says Cristina.
The Oriana girl, with her perspicacity, understood from an early age that the future of global communication was in English and that justified her move from Italy to New York, where she lived the rest of her life. “Not yet 30 years old, she was rich, famous and the celebrities’ best friend, but she worked to the end: work was her mission, a duty, an ethic,” Cristina comments.
Oriana Fallaci: The Feminist
Oriana the feminist was modern and courageous (in spite of her fragilities). In 1975, while Italy was divided by the abortion debate, she published “Lettera ad un bambino mai nato”: a novel about a single woman’ s dialogue with her eventually miscarried child, starting off with a complete maternity rejection and ending in a hymn to the same. The success was immediate.
“To help the novel’s success was also the randomness of the political debate, but of course this novel was a best seller; even today, it is a school must-read book translated all around the world,” Cristina highlights.
“Oriana was able to change a private affair such as the loss of a child into a universal story: just as great literary writer would do.”
Never married, Oriana fell in love with the Greek poet and activist, Alekos Panagoulis to whom she dedicated one of her most read and translated novels: Un Uomo.
“Un Uomo is a book full of books, just like Alekos was a man full of men.”
“The novel was written by Oriana in three years, without her family: she was really broken-hearted after the death of Alekos and her mother too,” Cristina recalls. “Un Uomo is (with Lettera a un bambino mai nato) Oriana’s greatest novel.
Oriana: The War Correspondent
Vietnam for eight years, the Indo-Pakistani War, Bangladesh, Middle East conflicts, South America and Mexico City in 1968, where she was shot three times. Every woman would love to be like Oriana: she still represents a dream thanks to her nonchalant reportages delivered simply by carrying her typewriter – the popular Olivetti Lettera 22 – and her camera… With that light touch of black eyeliner to frame her face.
“Oriana had a great personality: she was not only capable of risking her life, but also making aggressive, revealing interview questions: through her conversations she wanted to prove the interviewee was not better than us,” says Cristina. “She was never subjected to power: she was annoyed with it. She was an anarchist and never trusted a man to control others.
She asked a politician: ‘How corrupt are you?’ And a dictator: ‘How can you arrest and imprison so many young people?’. Removing her chador and criticising women’s obligation to wear it during an interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini was heavily symbolic. But she was also extremely feminine, sometimes using it to let down the unlucky one’s guard so that he relaxed in front of that delicately pretty woman and then was destroyed by her questions,” adds Cristiana.
Oriana: The Political Activist
“I, for example, do politics by my writer’s craft,” Oriana says talking about herself. She does it through her books, ideas and beliefs. Ergo: “Is writing above all a political act (duty)?”
As Cristina explains: “Oriana was obsessed with politics: she grew up under the dark shadow of fascism, in an anti-fascism partisans’ family persecuted by the regime. She soon discovered that power can be a terrible thing and so, she was just totally absorbed with politics: ‘Even if I wrote a cookbook, I would end up writing a political one’, said Oriana.”
Oriana viewed her work as a mission: “So a writer never separates their life from their work, they never rest, never go on vacation, they work – write – even when they do not work. Whatever happens the work is a liquid that sooner or later will end up poured into the bottle of their writings.” Therefore, writing comes as a direct consequence of being a writer (not vice versa).
Oriana described herself as a writer, she was bothered to be remembered only as an interviewer. She always repeated that her interviews were so original because they are a writer’s interview.
On 26th April, 1976, at the conclusion of a conference held at Amherst College, Massachusetts, Oriana cited a famous quote written by students on the Sorbonne’s walls during the Revolt of 1968: “Be realistic. Ask for the impossible.”
Oriana was simply a woman who knows how to be a myth in spite of her many detractors.
She devoted the last years of her “frail” life to the composition of her best novels: “La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio” written after the terroristic attacks of 11th September, 2001, prompted Oriana to break a long silence with warnings about Islam (she was working on “Un cappello pieno di ciliegie”, a novel about her ancestors. The book was published two years after her death). Followed by: La Forza della Ragione and Oriana Fallaci intervista sé stessa. L’Apocalisse, a long interview with herself on the subject of “Eurabia” and “Islamofacism”.
Oriana died on September 15, 2006 in her home city of Florence of lung cancer: from her clinical room she could see the whole city. She was 77.