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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Book Review by Santo L. Aricò of Oriana Fallaci's Book

LA RABBIA E L’ORGOGLIO (The Rage and the Pride) by Oriana Fallaci (Milan: RCS Libri S.p.A., Copyright (C) 2001. 163 pp.)

Santo L. Aricò grew up in Brooklyn, New York but currently resides in Oxford, Mississippi. After thirty-nine years of teaching, he dedicates all of his time to writing. He is the author of the biography Oriana Fallaci: The Woman and the Myth (Southern Illinois University Press, 1998), the monograph Rousseau’s Art of Persuasion in "La Nouvelle Héloise" (1994), and numerous articles on the French Eighteenth-Century. He is also the editor of Contemporary Women Writers in Italy: A Modern Renaissance (1990). At the present time, he writes historical fiction and mysteries, as well as short stories about ethnic experiences.
In December 1991, I sat in Oriana Fallaci’s Manhattan brownstone sipping a glass of her expensive Sicilian wine Malvasia delle Lipari and admiring a 1980 photograph of her with Deng Xiaoping in Beijing. I was in the company of someone who had dined with stars like Ava Gardner, interviewed such statesmen as Golda Meir and Robert Kennedy, dared talk back to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and severely satirized Henry Kissinger. Coming from a small town in Mississippi and remembering my humble origins as the son of Italian immigrants, I felt awestruck as she sat back in her arm chair, exhaled her cigarette smoke as an act of defiance toward her cancer, and insisted that my job was to discover the click and the chemistry of her life.


Holding a bag of mail sent to her by devotees, she wanted to know why they admired and loved her. She made it clear that, in order for me to write her biography, I would have to find an explanation. She told me that, although what I had already written about her book on Vietnam was good, it was not enough to answer the question. I had described her jumping into foxholes during North Vietnamese bombardments and tape-recording the conversations of American soldiers. My thesis was that she had expressed these adventures as though they were parts of a novel. Her method of arrangement exemplified the literary techniques summarized by Tom Wolfe in his characterization of New Journalism. Yet, she insisted, my analysis fell short of defining her. She was correct.


Unfortunately or fortunately, it took a divorce from Fallaci to acquire the objective freedom needed to discern the response to her query. She had begun to edit her official image at every stage of my book and embellish the only portrait she wanted her public to have—that of a great author and artist, not of a journalist. She urged me to consult such Italian critics as Giancarlo Vigorelli, Bernardo Valli, David Maria Turoldo, and Wolfgango Rossani. (They had all glowingly praised her novel Insciallah.) I obeyed in an effort to please her and composed new drafts. However, she rejected all of them as very unsatisfactory. I finally understood how impossible it was to present her with a manuscript worthy of her signature. In my letter to her, dated 16 February 1994, I admitted having fallen in love with her works and wanting to have the authorized biography published. However, a red flag appeared whenever I was tempted to send Fallaci another manuscript. "A little voice in my head tells me not to place the completed work in your hands," I wrote.


I began to dialogue with subjects she never would have allowed me to contact had we remained married: her intimate friend, the astronaut Charles Conrad; Navy Lieutenant Robert Franchot Frishman whom she had met while he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam; two of her former translators, John Shepley and James Marcus. I reexamined all of her articles and books, as well as each of the fourteen-audiocassette tapes on which she insisted I record all of our conversations. The answer to who she was then burst forth like a flash of light. She epitomized great all-about-me journalists, much in the tradition of Norman Mailer, and had used her talent to create her legendary status. Every word she had ever written placed her in the most important role and demonstrated the power of her personality. She was the leading lady attracting attention to her own persona rather than directing it to what she was writing. I summarized my findings in my unauthorized Oriana Fallaci: The Woman and the Myth (Southern Illinois University Press, 1998).


In her latest book La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio, yet to be translated into English, Fallaci once again reveals her great charisma, this time to deliver an angry oration on the horrific New York attack of 11 September 2001. Like millions all over the world, she expresses shock, sadness, and condemnation. At the same time, she castigates a petty Italy without principles or discipline and reveals her Self with even more energy than ever before. Eighteen days after the apocalypse, Fallaci’s long article against terrorism appeared in Corriere Della Sera (29 September 2001) and immediately aroused a national debate. In her book, which followed eight weeks later, she wins admiration as she figuratively spits on Palestinians and Italians who celebrated the catastrophe, sings the praises of Mayor Rudy Giuliani who, as she points out, has the same sickness she has, and commemorates the heroism of the passengers who forced the hijacked plane to crash in Pennsylvania, thereby saving the White House. She uses her special oratory of freedom to express high regard for how Americans respond to tragedies and takes a belligerent stand against Islamic immigrants whom she considers a hostile, invading force in a crusade against Western culture and values.


The power of Fallaci’s appeal in her book--four editions in one month--derives not only from her emotional and journalistic denunciation of the attack on The Twin Towers but also from her own image building—more than she had ever done in her earlier works. First, she endows herself with mythical status as an uncompromising, patriotic exile. She writes that, while still a young journalist, she departs from Italy with great disdain, displeased with her homeland’s politics and with the critics who expressed displeasure with her success. She adopts New York as her home but carefully accentuates her place amongst such great expatriates as Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Italian volunteers who fought for the North and South during America’s Civil War. In her narration, she also emphasizes her presence among political figures who found a safe haven there after fleeing from Fascism.


In addition, Fallaci reports that, when she nostalgically yearns for Italy, she calls upon these models for company, smokes a cigarette with them, and asks them to console her a bit. With great discipline and a sense of unflinching duty, she claims to have chosen silence and a solitary existence, like a reserved scornful wolf. She highlights as well how, as a suffering elderly author, she yearns for the land of her birth and periodically sneaks back to her native Florence but always stealthily, like Giuseppe Mazzini when he would secretly leave London to visit Turin. Her clandestine arrivals save her from meeting political "shitheads" ("gli stronzi," p. 13) because of whom her father Edoardo died in exile and she feels obliged to live in New York City. Yet she must tell all in her writing.


Along with her image as a hermetic exile, Fallaci introduces the voice of an inspired seer. She places emphasis on the fact that, after 11 September, her editor journeyed across the Atlantic with great haste. His mission, she underscores, was to urge her to break her sacrosanct silence and take up the pen, but she had already done so. With the solemnity of a mystic in the act of presenting holy scrolls to a high priest, she gives him a draft of her book. Awe-struck as he holds La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio, her editor reacts as though he sees Greta Garbo remove her dark glasses and do a strip tease at La Scala. Fallaci then tells her public how, as if in a state of trance, she completed the text in two weeks during which time she did not eat or sleep and kept awake by drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. The words gushed forth like a waterfall onto the pages. In her book, Fallaci speaks as a prophet of truth who attempts to open the eyes of those who refuse to see, the ears of those who refuse to hear, and the minds of those who refuse to think.


Fallaci makes a point of telling about a telephone call from Howard Gotlieb, the curator of her works at Boston University. He asks her how to define "The Rage and the Pride." Her response—"call it a sermon" ("lo definisca una predica," p. 36)--reinforces the priestly nature of her role. According to her account, she planned it as a letter on the war that the children of Allah have declared on the West. However, while writing, she explains, it evolves into a homily. Further fortifying her mystic function, Fallaci develops a parallelism between herself and the exiled Gaetano Salvemini, whose warnings in 1933 against the forces of fascism went unheeded in America until the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor. He was correct in his prediction just as she is when she cries out that Islam proposes the conquest of the Occident and that Bin Laden’s statements prove the existence of a reverse Crusade designed to bring western culture to its knees. Despite the freeing of Afghanistan, she warns, the followers of Islamic fundamentalism continue to fester in hatred and grow like the protozoa of cells. Fallaci metaphorically stands on the mountaintop, shakes her finger at readers, and announces with great solemnity that the worst is yet to come. She even threatens to assail the f------ sons of Allah ("i fottuti figli di Allah," p. 35) if they dare destroy one of Italy’s monuments.


Fallaci, prophetic speaker of truth, courageously refuses to accommodate the demands of Islamic immigrants. In contrast to her country’s conciliatory politicians, as well as Italians who do not have the balls to change ("gli italiani che non hanno le palle per cambiare," p. 17) and become a population worthy of respect, she holds back nothing in inveighing against her nation’s invaders and dances through a personal ceremonial of heroism, a sense of which was ingrained in her in earliest childhood. She recalls the many anti-Fascists who struggled alongside her father Edoardo Fallaci in the resistance movement "Giustizia e Libertà." She also remembers crying in fear during a bombing until Edoardo smacked her and told her that little girls did not cry. As an adult, she discovers he laughed during torture inflicted on him by his fascist captors. While hunting in the woods of Chianti, she asks him if it were true and never forgets how dark he grew as he briskly hisses that in certain cases laughing was the same as crying. The courage she learned from Edoardo, she writes, always defines her, even if it results in her paying a high price, including physical or moral threats, as well as fits of jealousy and contemptible acts.


In spirited language, Fallaci bitterly assails Muslims. She makes no mention of the need for a resolution of political problems in the Middle East, as she did in her open "Letter to Kissinger after His Failure" ("Lettera a Kissinger dopo il suo fallimento," Europeo, 3 Apr. 1975)—the one in which she bitterly satirized Kissinger’s attempts to establish meaningful peace between Israel and Egypt without a settlement of the Palestinian question. In her book, she instead recalls her negative experiences in Iran and Dacca, Islamic persecution of Buddhists, their massacre of Christians in Lebanon, and their execution of women in Afghanistan. She unhappily brings to mind the defacement of Florence’s Piazza del Duomo by Somalis and the disrespectful behavior of Jordanian soldiers toward her during a bombardment. She accuses every Islamic country of being a carbon copy of Iran and Afghanistan and reminds readers of the Taliban’s destruction of pre-Islamic historical monuments. She censures the European Union for masochistically receiving millions of Muslims into its borders and denounces Italy for tolerating the building of mosques that she regards as centers of terrorism. In her vintage style, instead, she scratches and claws at politicians, including the prime minister and other selected world leaders. She concludes with a definition of the Italy she desires—one that is dignified, intelligent, courageous, and worthy of respect.


Fallaci not only boldly strikes crippling blows against Islam but also seizes the opportunity to lash deadly fury against her critics. She makes reference to her father’s older brother Bruno Fallaci, a giant in the newspaper industry, who detested journalists and scolded her for choosing to become one of them rather than a literary writer. She, in turn, casts disparagement at critics by refusing to read or respond to any of their articles. She proudly proclaims her life is too rich intellectually to make room for petty messengers of smallness and frivolities. She hits them with a humiliating clout by placing herself under the auspices of Italy’s super-exile Dante Alighieri who counseled a quick indifferent glance at defamers. Fallaci heads his advice but goes further. She refuses to grant detractors even the privilege of a momentary look.


Nevertheless, despite her disdain, Fallaci is very much at home settling scores and surrenders to her irresistible desire to refute critics. With words as sharp as arrows, she takes deadly aim at detractors, particularly one who accuses her of never having read A Thousand and One Nights and of denying Arabs the merit of having defined the concept of zero. She dismisses the latter with a scholarly exposé, attributing the paternity of zero to the Indian Brahmagupta. With regard to the former, however, she recalls how, as a child, her parents bought books on the installment plan and placed them on bookshelves near the open-up bed on which she slept. She began reading Scheherazade’s stories at that point in time, and it ignited within her an eternal love affair with art, literature and culture in general. She refutes any claim of anti-intellectualism by expounding on her collection of old masterpieces. She lists some of the many rare treasures she has collected over the years through Ken Gloss, her antique bookseller in Boston.


As to charges of unscrupulous greed, she emphatically denies ever having written for monetary gain. At the same time, she points out how her calumniators are well paid for their accusatory articles. She recalls the poverty of her youth and how she needed money to attend medical school. At seventeen years of age, Gastone Panteri hired her as a reporter for Il Mattino dell’Italia Centrale. When she was twenty-two, her editor Cristiano Ridomi fired her for refusing to satirize a political rally before even having attended it. Fair play and professionalism cost her a job and the compensation that she and her family desperately needed. She calls the incident to mind to accentuate that, even in her youth, her moral standards were so noble that she refused to write a single line for money.


When her editor offers her an honorarium for her article on the terrorist attack, Fallaci writes she is embarrassed and felt the same embarrassment when, as a fourteen-year-old girl, she learned the Italian army intended to compensate her simply for having fought Nazis and Fascists in the Corpo Volontari della Libertà. At that time, she accepted the money and bought her sisters and herself shoes that they did not have. Unable to resist a dig at her editor, she satirically puts into plain words that, when she refuses his salary proposal, he is so taken aback that he figuratively turns into a statue of salt like Lot’s wife.


In her latest book, Fallaci talks a great deal about herself and successfully provides a classic example of myth building. While it is true that rage imprisons her subsequent to 11 September 2001, she seizes the opportunity to send her discourse through an extravaganza of her life’s details. Her own fabled Self takes center-stage, rather than all her warnings of Islamic danger. Fallaci was a subduer of Goliaths as she interviewed heads of state in Interview with History (1974). In Letter to a Child Never Born (1975), she dramatized an intensely personal situation from her life’s history. In Insciallah (1990), she wanted the world to see her as a secluded Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, entirely devoted to the creation of art. In La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio, she unleashes barrages of irrepressible fury at her own country and at Islamics. But, more than anything, Fallaci is better than ever before a writer whose attempts to capture truth always involve extraordinary scenarios of self-advertising.

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End of Book Review by Santo L. Aricò of Oriana Fallaici's La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio. Review Copyright (C) 2002 by Santo L. Arico. All rights , including electronic, are reserved by the author and may not be reprinted without expressed permission of the author.



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