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Literature

Stacy Rubis on Her Debut Novel Celebrating the Life of Oriana Fallaci

ATHENS – Author Stacy Rubis discovered the story of Oriana Fallaci (1929-2006) on the Greek island of Folegandros in the 1980s. “I was waiting to catch the ferry back to Piraeus and was browsing in a souvenir shop when the only paperback in English caught my eye. It was ‘A Man’, by Fallaci, and I started reading it on the deck of the ferry under the hot sun. That memoir of her love with Alexander Panagoulis, the Greek poet and hero, never left me,” she said.

Following 11 years of research and writing, the author is this, an Italian journalist known for blazing a trail for women in the 1970s with hard-hitting interviews of world leaders, while struggling in her personal life to find love and happiness.

The National Herald interviewed Rubis about her novel.

TNH: Fallaci was hailed as one of the greatest political interviewers of her time, known for her tough questions and confrontational style. How did her approach to journalism influence your portrayal of her character in the novel?

Stacy Rubis’ book ‘ORIANA’, a novel based on the true story of legendary journalist Oriana Fallaci, was released in March.

Stacy Rubis: I got great pleasure and inspiration from portraying a brilliant, defiant, ambitious woman who macheted her way to the top of journalism. She overcame poor beginnings, the lack of a university education, and relentless sexism. She’s electrifying in her journalism – the guts to speak the truth and stand up to world figures – and empowering to me personally, because she was a woman who wasn’t intimidated by anyone, who took a starring, not supporting role, who didn’t bother to ask permission, who asserted herself with confidence. There is a YouTube video in which you see Oriana’s wonderful strength; it’s her appearance on Charlie Rose in the 1990s, where she disagrees with his statement by saying “No, no, no, no, no” – five times in a row. She doesn’t let anyone ‘explain’ things to her.

TNH: Fallaci’s relationship with Alexander Panagoulis is a central aspect of the story.

SR: It’s a great love story that most people have never heard of. Oriana and Alekos have the same passion for human rights and freedom, but she’s 44, he’s 34; they live in different countries; she’s professionally at her peak, he’s just out of prison. They are star-crossed lovers. Their story reminds me of ‘Out of Africa’, where a strong, independent woman experiences the great love of her life but can’t ‘have it all’ conventionally – not marriage, not children. She manages great feats in the world, but in her personal life, heartache. I am drawn to what Aristotle in ‘The Poetics’ called tragic pleasure. Tragedy, he wrote, arouses pity and fear, the recognition that this could happen to us, and finally it brings catharsis. My favorite books and movies are all tragic love stories.

TNH: Journalist Christiane Amanpour has cited Oriana Fallaci as her role model for asking tough questions. How did Fallaci pave the way for women in journalism?

SR: Oriana was born in 1929 and had no role models. She was relegated to women’s topics but pushed her editor to let her cover the space missions of the 1960s, including the moon landing, and to go to Vietnam as Italy’s only female war correspondent. She went seven times. Then she got shot in Mexico City covering student protests. After that, she could write anything she wanted and she decided the most important news was political. She started interviewing world leaders and doing it in her own signature style, through the Q&A interview, which until then had been mainly puff pieces. She turned the Q&A into real news by asking tough questions and confronting powerful people. For instance she said to Kissinger about Vietnam “Don’t you find that it’s been a useless war?” and got him to agree. She said to Gaddafi, “I haven’t told you that you are a dictator yet. But I will now.” To Khomeini: “You are a frightening man. Your regime lives on fear.”

TNH: In the novel, Fallaci grapples with the question of whether a woman can truly ‘have it all’. What insights did you gain about this timeless struggle through your exploration of Fallaci’s life and experiences?

SR: We can’t have everything in life, certainly not all at once. Oriana especially couldn’t, having been born too early and chosen a profession too dangerous, with too much travel. The novel is very realistic about the price she paid for being a trailblazing woman. She often said she had to work twice as hard as a man, otherwise they’d discount her, but she didn’t regret it, because it made her better. I think many women can relate to that, thus our habit of preparing 200% for any endeavor. Fallaci grappled with work/life balance, sexism, reproductive rights – the same issues we still grapple with today, 50 years later. I know women will resonate with the novel, but I have been happily surprised that men, do, too.

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